To follow the analysis that will be presented below, it is necessary to first briefly and broadly summarize two philosophical positions. The reader is asked to bear with me through these summaries. There are two opposed worldviews that one might take as a guide to understanding the nature of reality.
The first worldview is that of Western culture. Historically, this was a theological conception that saw the world as consisting of God and God’s creations, which included humanity (a dualistic view). This conception began to be challenged by naturalists, seeking to understand God’s creation, whose findings conflicted with the understanding adopted by religious authorities. The view adopted by religious leaders was not that of God; i.e., was not based in scripture, but largely borrowed from earlier Greek philosophers. However, this clash grew more intense until the “great compromise” offered by Rene Descartes. His compromise proposed that matters of the material world should be left to the naturalists (subsequently scientists) and that matters of the spiritual world should be left to theologians (also a dualistic view). The divide between science and religion grew until science largely dismissed religious views as irrelevant. This led to the evolution of a perspective that excluded anything non-material from reality.
Scientific materialism posits a point of initiation for matter that is called “the big bang.” When a renowned physicist, who supports this model, was asked where the big bang came from, he replied that its origin was spontaneous creation from nothing. In short, it was a random event with no known cause, though once set in motion, the result is a deterministic unfolding whose final outcome was built into the point of initiation. This view assumes that everything in the universe is composed of material elements and assembled from the bottom up. Thus, everything can be understood by breaking it down into the pieces that it was assembled from and studying the relationship of the pieces to one another. This is what is called reductionism. This view assumes that everything, including life and the universe itself, arose through a random event and has no purpose and therefore no fundamental meaning. Contemporary Western culture has been strongly influenced by the materialist perspective while retaining a dualistic view of how things are structured.
Scientific materialism is the current paradigm of science with the core assumption that matter is all that exists; i.e., monistic materialism. There are opponents to this view who root their opposition in the inability of a materialist paradigm to account for consciousness. Thus, the old dualist division persists to this day, though spirit has been largely replaced by consciousness. Some scientific materialist have attempted to resolve this problem by asserting that consciousness is an illusion. This solution has not been accepted very widely because it is at odds with personal experience. More importantly, there is considerable evidence that consciousness is a reality that must be dealt with, not the least of which is the role consciousness appears to play in the outcome of some quantum physics experiments. At root, these experiments clearly suggest that consciousness is required for matter to come into existence. In short, the collapse of a “wave of possibilities” into an outcome in the material world appears to require consciousness. In other words, consciousness is primary.
From the perspective of materialism, consciousness is an epiphenomenon or an emergent property of matter. It assumes that consciousness is individually generated by aggregates of matter that have achieved a sufficient level of complexity. Implicit in this view is the idea that complex order is the source of consciousness. How consciousness could arise from the combination of elements of matter is unknown. Faced with the inability to posit any explanation, short of magic, for how consciousness might arise from complex arrangements of matter, some “materialists” have hypothesized that every particle of matter contains a degree of consciousness. Thus, it is suggested that complex arrangements of elements of matter that already contain some degree of consciousness produce conscious awareness. This hypothesis fails to explain where any degree of consciousness, no matter how insignificant, came from in the first place. It also has no explanation for how the combination of elements of consciousness containing matter results in conscious awareness. This idea is somewhat analogous to suggesting that if one takes small units of biological matter, such as bacteria, and aggregate enough of them together, a living animal will emerge from the complexity.
There are many scientists, though still in a minority, who consider the current scientific paradigm, rooted in the belief that matter is primary, to be a “dead man walking.” This view is predicated upon an ever accumulating body of evidence that falsifies the paradigm’s assumptions. A noted physicist recently published a paper in a major physics journal in which he unequivocally stated that the evidence supports the view that reality is essentially mental. This doesn’t obviate the accomplishments of science under the current paradigm. It does, however, suggest that the new emerging view makes clear that the current paradigm has limits on what can be known and understood and that those limits are being reached.
The second worldview we’ll discuss is monistic idealism1 (see the referenced note for a fuller explanation), which is the view that everything exists within Consciousness2. This is one of the challenges to the current paradigm of scientific materialism. The core assumption of this view is that Consciousness is all that exists and that it is both infinite, eternal, inherently intelligent and creative. This view does not posit a point of origination for Consciousness. In short, it is assumed that it has always existed. This view assumes that the universe is at root an indivisible whole in which every particle of matter is entangled with every other particle. In this view, matter is a contraction or concentration of Consciousness. The apparent separate constituents of the universe are at root an “illusion.” This view posits that the “illusion” is created by the appearance of complementary pairs reflected within Consciousness. These pairs create contrast effects, which make possible experience. This view suggests that Consciousness created the possibility for experience for the purpose of self-examination, self-awareness and enrichment. This view implies that the universe did not arise by chance, has a purpose and a fundamental meaning.
The view of idealism is that matter is an epiphenomenon or an emergent property of Consciousness. It assumes that Consciousness is a ground state from which everything arises. Thus, everything that exists arises within Consciousness. The closest analogy to this process is probably a dream. Dreams arise in your consciousness and during the experience appear to be quite real. Thus, in a manner of speaking, monistic idealism would say that you are a “dream” character in Consciousness or in Universal Mind. For those familiar with virtual reality games, one might say that you are an “avatar” in a virtual reality3 created by Universal Mind or Consciousness (see the referenced note for a fuller explanation). Material “reality” could be thought of as being generated from a basic division of thought within Universal Mind into a complementary pair such as physical versus biological. From contrasting pairs, experience evolved ever more complex forms, which produced their own sets of complementary pairs. The biological or living forms became “receivers” for Consciousness, which was experienced as an individuated consciousness that is functionally independent from Consciousness. The more complex the life form the more “bandwidth” the “receiver” could accept. In the end, however, there is only one Consciousness (a nondual perspective). Traditionally, this view has been largely that of some Eastern traditions such as yoga. Many readers will immediately think of the Western version of Hatha Yoga with its emphasis on the body. What is referred to here are the traditions within yoga that emphasize a nondual philosophical view similar to monistic idealism and teach practices for the refinement of consciousness; i.e., mental yoga.
Now, let’s examine the implications for the above for one complementary pair that we all have some experience with — sex (male and female). Recall that complementary pairs make experience possible by the contrasts that they impose. To clarify, consider another pair associated with temperature: hot and cold. Without the contrast produced by the pair, temperature could not be experienced. It is also clear that the pair represents a range and does not represent dichotomous categories. In short, there are degrees of temperature along the continuum between the polar anchors for the complementary pair. The greater the points of difference along the continuum the richer the possibilities for experience. Without the experience of the full range of the continuum between the polar anchors for a complementary pair, one can not truly understand the unity from which the pair was derived. For those familiar with the Chinese yin and yang symbols, recall that those symbols for opposites are an abstract representation for complementary pairs. Each symbol contains a component of its opposite and both are contained within a circle representing the whole or unity of which each member of the pair is a partial reflection.
The continuum between the anchor points of male and female includes all sexual variation possible. For purposes of this discussion, the experiences placed under the umbrella term “transgender” (TG) will be considered. The view offered here is that gender is a socially constructed expression of sex and sexuality. While there is some limited variation in sex, there is more variation in the experienced sense of sexuality. The former is anatomical and the latter is probably due to atypical hormonal effects on a developing organism. Gender in this discussion is considered to be a social expression of sex and sexuality, which are convergent in the majority of people but divergent in a minority. Thus, gender is not an all-or-nothing phenomenon, though it may come close to that in many people’s experience. By way of analogy, consider the biological experience of hunger. The body generates this experience, which is variable in its intensity. However, the body does not dictate, except in the most general way, what should be eaten to satisfy hunger. How hunger is satisfied is socially constructed. Society determines what should be considered “food.” It also creates customs around how food is prepared, when it is eaten, how it is eaten, with whom it might be eaten, and so on. Likewise, societies have socially created ways in which sex and the experience of sexuality should be expressed — gender. Generally speaking, there is usually a very tight correlation between the appearance of anatomical sex, experienced sexuality and gender.
What are the implications of the above discussion for TG?
Lets look at the implications of taking the position of materialism. For our purposes, a TG individual is someone who experiences some degree of male sexuality while living through a female body or experiences some degree of female sexuality while living through a male body.
Consider a TG individual who is a materialist. Such an individual has to consider his/her experience to be the result of a random and meaningless biological variation — a victim of circumstance. There are some who would argue that their experience is a deliberate choice, not the result of a random biological variation. The choice is often justified on political and or social grounds, which probably serves to give the experience contextual meaning. I don’t doubt that there may be such individuals. I think that most TG individuals, however, feel that their experience was imposed, not chosen, and usually leaves them feeling like a victim, not an agent for social change. In fact, one could posit that taking the position that one’s experience results from a sociopolitical decision is a coping mechanism. A way of negating the feeling of being a victim and constructing some meaning from the experience. Second, scientific materialism is reductionist and therefore depends upon studying relationships between clearly defined elements, which are strictly controlled to minimize variation. The continuum of variation for sex is therefore, from a scientific perspective, a messy affair making well controlled studies of sex and sexuality only possible by focusing on the anchor points and excluding everything in between as confounding variation. It is no wonder that persons on the excluded portion of the continuum have been prone to being minimized, pathologized and criminalized. Fortunately, modern day society is not as tenacious about pathologizing and criminalizing personal expression as it has been in the past. This is not to suggest that it isn’t still a problem of significance.
Now, let’s look at the implications of taking the position of idealism.
Consider a TG individual who is an idealist and especially one who understands idealism through nondual philosophy4 rooted in some Eastern tradition or in one of the increasing number of Western expressions of nondualism. S/he does not view everything as due to blind chance. Such a person is considered to be an individuated manifestation of Consciousness. Such a consciousness is a vehicle through which Consciousness gains experience of its own potential and the unfolding of that potential. If one is a manifestation of Source Consciousness or of Universal Mind, then your experience is not random and one is certainly not a victim of circumstance. Usually, one’s personal condition is viewed as having its origins in a choice made by the meta-self 5 prior to individuated consciousness being expressed in material form. In short, there was an agreement to the current manifestation as a vehicle for the experience possible for that form. This is probably only one of many previous and different expressions and possibly of many more to come. Why this particular choice was made, in any specific case, lies within one’s consciousness but outside of awareness. There are ways of accessing such material but that is beyond the scope of this essay. From this perspective one does not have to take pathologizing and criminalizing by society of one’s being as a judgment of one’s personal worth. This is not to minimize the social injustice that such judgment produces or its impacts. However, if one views oneself as a unique expression of Consciousness and takes one’s sense of personal worth from that understanding, then one has a more positive basis for one’s sense of self and a degree of insulation from the injustices implicit in society.
Finally, let us turn to an analysis of some possible outcomes for a TG individual. There may be outcomes not covered here, but one should be able to work them out from this illustration. Some of the following options will probably only be open to someone who subscribes to a nondual worldview or will certainly be facilitated by such a worldview. As the progression unfolds, a nondual worldview increases in importance.
First, consider an individual on the continuum in unresolved conflict. This conflict comes down to a perceived dualistic choice between the two anchor points (male/female or masculine/feminine). The conflict between the dichotomous anchor points for the continuum is driven in large part by the social narrative about the continuum. The person in conflict is strongly drawn toward the anchor point in conflict with anatomy, which is nonconforming to the social narrative. Such an individual is strongly imbued with the social narrative. The stronger the social pressures the greater the conflict. The social pressure can come from external sources policing the social narrative but will also involve one’s enculturation and internalization of the social narrative. It is probably from this type of conflict that what is often referred to as gender dysphoria arises. Clearly, minimizing susceptibility to external policing efforts will help. Equally if not more important is deconstructing the internalized policing established through enculturation. Psychotherapy, drawing on narrative psychology, can be helpful with the latter.
Second, consider an individual on the continuum who is only moderately drawn to the anchor point in conflict with anatomy. Such a person often will resolve to end the conflict by choosing one anchor point and suppressing the other in this dualistic dance. If the person is male bodied and the choice is to suppress the intrusive sense of femaleness, the conflict is repressed and one’s focus becomes on living through the anatomical sex. There is still potential for negative psychological effects from employing repression, but the immediate conflict has been resolved. The same analysis would hold if the person was female bodied and chose to suppress an intrusive sense of maleness.
Third, consider an individual on the continuum similar to the person in the previous analysis, except the person is strongly drawn to the anchor point in conflict with anatomy. In this case, the decision may be to suppress and modify the anatomical sex and give full expression to the intrusive sense of sexuality. This is what is often referred to a transsexualism. This is a choice that may reduce the conflict one feels between anatomical sex and an intrusive sense of sexuality, but it is fraught with many new potential conflicts. It may also entail a lifetime of pursuing adjustments trying to achieve the perfect approximation to one’s idealized self-image.
Fourth, consider an individual who is a bit more psychologically sophisticated and makes the choice not to suppress but to simply witness and thereby neutralize a choice. In the case of a female bodied person, she lives through her anatomical sex and becomes simply an unresponsive observer (witness) to the arising and subsiding of her intrusive sense of male sexuality. The converse analysis would apply to a male bodied person with an intrusive sense of female sexuality. This approach has the potential to minimize the conflict without the potential problems associated with repression. However, witnessing is a learned skill that makes this a choice only for someone aware of the skill and willing to devote the time and effort to establish it.
Fifth, consider a person who is living through a nondual narrative about his or her life. Such an individual would reject the dualistic choice posed by the anchor points of the continuum. The decision in this individual might be to unify the apparent dualistic choice presented by the continuum. The individual neither vacillates between the apparent choices, employs repression, embarks on bodily modification or sets out to utilize neutralization. In this individual the choice is to integrate the conflicting demands and give expression to a blend of both, which may be made explicit to varying degrees. This might be thought of as a non-binary life-style. Such an individual would also be largely free of or at least largely indifferent to the dualistic demands of social presentation in forms dictated by society.
Finally, there is one additional option available from the nondual perspective but one probably chosen by very few. This is to shift identification from the body/mind to fully identifying with pure awareness. Through identification with pure awareness, there is a merger of the self with the meta-self, to as great an extent as is possible, and still live in the world, transcending duality. In such a state the dualistic world of complementary pairs is transformed into a holistic understanding and perspective. A view from which the pairs creating the potential for experience are seen as mere mirror reflections within the whole. Pure awareness is characterized by neither maleness nor femaleness but rather the whole from which they are reflected into the material world.
1. For an excellent video presentation by a leading proponent of monistic idealism click here.
2. Consciousness with a capital “C” is used to indicate a reference to the unified and infinite field of Consciousness or Source of all that is. The use of consciousness with a lower case “C” is used to indicate an individuated contraction of consciousness within Consciousness.
4. Below are links to some sources of teachings on nondualism:
5. Meta-self refers to that which is beyond or behind the self. This is somewhat analogous to some people’s use of the terms soul and oversoul.
There has been much angst expressed over the recent presidential election (November, 2016) arising from a variety of sources, including some sites promoting a non-dual perspective in their clients. Dualism in the world appears to be the product of what the late physicist, Niels Bohr, referred to as complementary pairs. Bohr established the Principle of Complementarity in quantum physics to explain wave/particle duality. A complementary pair is merely a particular perspective on an indivisible whole. However, Bohr thought the principle applied much more broadly and offered examples of its application to fields outside of physics such as psychology. Thus, it seems that the world of duality largely rests upon the operation of complementary pairs in structuring the world we live in.
Much of the public angst then appears to follow from the practice of dualistic thinking that predisposes one to commit to one side or another. Usually the sides in a political contest are grounded in ideology, which is an elaborated belief system (see The Problem with Belief. Committing to a particular political ideology then is motivated by the belief that it, for example, represents truth or goodness in contradistinction to deception or falsity or badness. Taking such a position ignores the complementary nature of dualistic pairings. One member of a complementary pair is never true in any complete sense because its complement is also a reflection of the truth embodied in the whole. This partial reflection of wholes is to be expected from a dualistic perspective and is what drives the continuous flux that we call change and from which experience arises.
By taking one side or another in a political contest, one is committing to the ideology or belief system of that position. This leads to expectations about what the results will be depending on which side prevails and with which side one is aligned. These expectations produce an attachment to the success of a particular candidate and the outcomes associated with that candidate. From a non-dual perspective one would refrain from becoming attached to one side or another in a political contest, because to do so is to become entangled in duality. This is not to say one can’t have a personal preference, which is a far cry from an ideological commitment and emotional attachment. Recognizing the complementary nature of the sides in a contest and exercising a preference does not require becoming attached to a specific outcome and the expectations associated with commitment to that outcome.
When one lives in a reality governed by dualism, it is virtually impossible to avoid participation in dualistic choices. The goal instead should be to stand above the ideology and attachment to outcomes and instead exercise personal preference with the intent of accepting whatever outcome manifests as necessary.
The nature of evil will be addressed from a perspective consistent with with panentheism (see Definitions). Panentheism is a philosophy that was first articulated in 1828 by the German philosopher Karl Krause. The central feature of this view is the primacy of consciousness. Consciousness is construed as an unbound field of consciousness existing independent of spacetime in which we and the universe are entangled (hereafter simply Source). Some might equate the Source with God or Unity Consciousness. Everything material is a manifestation of Source, which creates an apparent dualism between matter and spirit or consciousness. Life plays an important role in this apparent dualism, which depends on subject /object relationships that require a perceiving organism.
The question naturally arises as to why the material universe and subject/object relations exists. One perspective is that they exists to provide the Source with an experiential context. Creation of an experiential context suggests that the Source is engaged in self-development. The material universe then is an artifact of Consciousness that has rendered a portion of itself ignorant of the rest so that dualistic representations of itself can interact. One might think of the material universe as a canvas created by an artist for the development of his or her creative talents. In short, the dynamic interactions that we think of as life are permutations of subject/object relations grounded in the Source. Ultimately speaking, subject and object arise from an indivisible source and the material universe is an illusion.
Human beings represent an important component of the material world simply because their capabilities greatly expand the range of experience possible. The key psychological component governing most subject/object interactions involving human beings is ego. Ego is the identity cloaking that portion of the Source manifest in human form. The development of ego draws a veil between self and the Source, thereby creating the dualistic illusion of me and not me. Everything animate and non-animate beyond one’s self-awareness is not me.
Good and evil, therefore, represent a dualistic pair of categories that can be applied to intentional actions by ego in the material world. This dichotomy is, like all dichotomies, ultimately an illusion because the Source is beyond dichotomies. It is a spiritual singularity or indivisible whole. However, it is a very “real” dichotomy for individuals lacking direct experience of the Source and therefore awareness of the illusion. If the Source created the material universe in order to impose a counterpoint to itself for the purpose of gaining experience, then the “struggle” between good and evil would appear to be an important and necessary dimension of experience.
In other terms, good and evil can be thought of as the difference between enlightened actions and actions grounded in ignorance. When construed this way, actions grounded in ignorance blind one to one’s true nature, that is, as an aspect of Source or God. Thus, evil arises out of spiritual ignorance that leads one to invest one’s sense of being in ego. Life then consists of each individual’s struggle to overcome ignorance and thereby achieve enlightenment. This dichotomy between enlightenment and ignorance might be thought of as a bipolar construct where one end is anchored by selflessness (loving/kindness) and the other end is anchored by selfishness (egotism). The further one’s identity falls toward the selfishness or egotism end of the scale the greater one’s ignorance and the potential for evil actions.
An interviewer at the Nuremberg trials for Nazi war criminals was asked if he had learned anything from his interviews. He replied that what he had learned was that evil was the total absence of empathy. Empathy can be construed as the ability to expand one’s sense of “me” to include others. Carried to its logical conclusion, this inclusive expansion submerges ego and becomes selflessness, which is the antithesis of “me” or ego. True selflessness requires the evolution of consciousness which requires the expansion of empathy that leads to a life grounded in compassion and love.
Evil then in this scheme of reasoning arises from attempts to gratify ego desires. Desire is what one wants as distinct from what one needs. One needs shelter but wants a penthouse apartment on Affluence Avenue. Desires are rooted in status seeking, righteousness, jealousy, lust, pride, power, honor, envy, fame and fortune along with many other similar obstacles to the expansion of empathy, spiritual development and enlightenment. When objects are perceived by ego as merely means to satisfy desire, they have no inherent value independent of one’s use of them. People, animals, plants, physical elements are all treated as objects for satisfying one’s desires. The desires of ego are an expression of ignorance and the source of evil in the world. Satan, in Christian theology, might be thought of as the personification of ego desire. Thus, to be consumed by the fires of ego desire is, metaphorically speaking, to be in Hell.
Equating self with ego is the initial step leading to treating others as objects. Think of this initial step as ego becoming an image manager. We are almost all image managers to some degree. The greater the degree to which we engage in image management the greater the extent of our self-absorption. An image manager desires ego to be viewed by others in a particular persona. Sometimes one has an intentionally constructed public persona and a private persona that differ from one another. Both will involve some degree of deception. A public persona deceives others while the private persona deceives self. Self-deception perpetuates ignorance, which can only be avoided by not equating self with ego.
The ego, as image manager, makes choices that are believed to maintain or enhance ego’s self-image or self-conception. A self-image can embody a positive or negative persona depending upon the purposes that it serves. Ego affects choices about things that include but aren’t limited to one’s personal narrative, physical appearance, possessions, public behavior, employment, social and intimate relationships. Image management is about “ME” (ego). I’m an important person, I have authority, I’m no good, I’m a victim, I’m beautiful, I’m handsome, I’m entitled, I’m helpless, I’m popular or even I’m spiritual, among many others. Once one has a “ME” narrative, then that narrative begins to control much of what one does. Ego becomes fully self-absorbed and to be self-absorbed implies that one has a selfish identity. A selfish identity means one acts from ignorance, which makes one highly susceptibility to engaging in what might be perceived as evil.
Evil is not dependent upon any particular act but rather on the intent of the actor. To do harm to another individual unintentionally is not evil. The same harm resulting from an intentional act committed in the service of ego desire is evil. Graduations of evil or ignorant actions depend upon the degree of damage to “objects” that result from the satisfaction of the ego’s desires. The nature of the harm whether physical, psychological, social or economic is less important than the degree of damage knowingly caused. Evil of whatever degree is subject to escalation through the power of an egoist to impose his or her desire broadly. Given someone with power willing to cause damage in the service of ego desire and the evil will be multiplied. Acts affecting groups of people are greater evils than comparable solitary acts simply due to the multiplicative effect of power in the service of ego desire. Another consideration is complicity in evil through support for or ignoring the action of others, the outcomes of which serve one’s own ego desires. Bystanders are not necessarily innocent but may be passive partners in evil actions and thereby bear part of the burden of such evil. A final consideration is an act that takes on the appearance of being motivated by good intentions. Surely, there are selfless acts motivated by good intentions. However, the criterion for evil offered herein pertains to acts motivated by ego desire. A benefit that accrues as a result of actions motivated by ego does not justify the actions or neutralize the evil. The point is simply that there is in some manner of speaking a continuum of sorts along which one might arrange acts of evil with varying degrees of precision. While all actions in the service of ego desire are, by definition, evil there are lesser and greater evils among them.
A question can also be raised about evil and the satisfaction of needs. This poses a fundamental question about natural rights. When a mountain lion kills a deer for food, we would not describe this action as evil. It is the natural right of the lion to acquire sustenance from its environment. In the case of human beings, it might also be argued that they have a natural right to meet their life sustaining needs. One could argue that a human animal has the same natural rights as a lion and taking its sustenance by force is no more evil than the taking by the lion. Evil would be avoided, however, only by using no more force than is necessary, taking only the minimum that is needed or a fair apportionment whichever is less and engaging in no retribution. Even so, an enlightened individual would recognize that the situation is simply one “act” in an evolving human drama intended to provide opportunities to overcome ignorance. Thus, such an enlightened individual might refuse to participate in the drama and accept starvation. By doing so, the enlightened individual maintains detachment from the drama of the material world while serving as an example to others and possibly contributing to their spiritual advancement.
Finally, there is the general question of how should one respond to evil action? This will depend upon the development of one’s sense of selflessness. Someone operating from the selfish side of the identity scale will respond in-kind and strike back in anger with a desire for revenge and thereby perpetuating ignorance. This is the morality of retribution. If a direct response isn’t possible or avoided out of fear, the object of the evil action may at least harbor ill will (hatred) toward the perpetrator, which will also serve to perpetuate ignorance. In the case of a response to an unprovoked action engaged in for defensive reasons even if the defensive actions are in-kind, they are not evil. A purely reflexive defensive action may be grounded in ignorance but it isn’t an intentional attempt to satisfy ego desire. Ignorant because the defender has not learned the negative moral implications of emotionally motivated in-kind, counter-aggression. This is, of course, the way the majority of human beings can be expected to act, which often leads to an escalating cycle of response and counter-response. Ignorance follows the path of least resistance and ignorance is the soil in which evil takes root.
A person operating from the middle of the scale will probably engage in defensive counter-aggression but without emotional content. In other words, an emotionally detached response is more likely to be a constrained response. Someone operating from the selflessness side of the identity scale will recognize the evil nature of the “attack” and the need for a measured response. Such an individual will engage in counter-aggression as a last resort and will then only do so with emotional detachment. This is not unlike the concept of warrior-priests embodied in the Chinese Shaolin whom legend has it used moral authority, paradoxical responses, persuasion and acceptance when the object of evil action. Direct action was only taken to protect life. These priests were alleged to have the skills necessary to respond in a graduated manner that never employed more counter force than was necessary. This graduated and minimal defense was made possible by complete emotional detachment and thereby without investment of ego. Such an individual would have a well developed understanding of the nature of evil and how to make a humane response to it. Finally, a fully selfless and enlightened person who is the object of evil action might embrace and absorb the action to the point of physical annihilation knowing that the action cannot do any real injury to spirit or essence and recognizing that such a response to evil may serve as an instructional demonstration.
In conclusion, an undeveloped or under-developed sense of empathy is clearly an obstacle to spiritual growth. Thus, being ruled by ego desire and thereby satisfying one’s wants through treating everything that is “not me” as an object with no purpose but to serve one’s desires blocks the path to spiritual development. To open the path to spiritual development requires a freely made choice to let go of attachments to wants and expand one’s sense of empathy through identification and perspective taking until ignorance and selfishness are crowded out by love and compassion. When the spiritual path is freely embraced one has taken one giant step in the evolution of consciousness, selflessness and enlightenment.
The discussion of this program is organized around different states of the “self.”
1. The starting point will be with the identity-self, which is the state in which one is fully identified with the body/mind. The “I” that thinks that it is the operative component of the body/mind is generally known as the ego or, as I call it in some of my writing, the fictive-self (see Automatic Programs in Chapter One beginning on page 21 of Self-agency and Beyond) or personal narrative (the “me” story). This is where most people undertaking a meditation program for the first time are coming from. Ego is the subject and everything else is perceived as a separate object. This is the dualistic perspective.
a. Initial meditation techniques usually have one sit quietly and erect, breathing deeply and slowly from the diaphragm. Let’s just call it “sitting meditation.” If the eyes are open, they will be oriented either toward the floor, a blank wall or possibly a mandala. If the eyes are shut, one may be instructed to imagine having the eyes focused on the area between the eyes, or no attention is given to the eyes at all when closed. Some instructions might suggest focusing on an object, e.g., candle, and some may suggest use of a mantra or chant, e.g., AUM. The technique used is less important than its “goodness of fit” for you.
b. This is the point where many meditators experience what is called “monkey mind.” The goal during this phase of sitting meditation is to simply learn to relax and observe the activity of the mind without getting seduced by it. As one gains some experience, the frenetic activity experienced by most new meditators will slow down. This more subdued stage might be called the “hummingbird mind.” The mind still flits about but not as energetically as in the beginning.
2. After things have settled down, one will recognize something of a perceptual shift developing that establishes a division. This shift is the identity-self morphing into an observer and an ego.
a. During this phase, one should “side” with the observer and allow some distancing from the ego to develop. One should be a somewhat disinterested observer of the activities of the ego. The goal is to begin identifying with the observer rather than with the ego and its body/mind.
b. As one establishes identification with the observer rather than the ego, it will become apparent that the observer is not to be found in the story that comprises the ego nor can it be found anywhere in the body. Many aspects of “the fictive-self” will come under observation. Some of these may have been buried and outside of conscious awareness. I have discussed these elsewhere as automatic programs or APs (see Automatic Programs in Chapter One beginning on page 21 of Self-agency and Beyond). Some of these APs you may recognize as being the basis for dysfunctional beliefs, emotions and behaviors. This is usually a good time to deconstruct such APs. Often just observing these arise and dissipate will lead to their undoing. However, if you think a more direct approach is needed, I have discussed such methods in Chapters Two, Three and Four in Part I of Self-agency and Beyond. Carl Jung said, “Whatever does not emerge as consciousness returns as Destiny.” That is, you are likely to keep repeating unconscious patterns until they become conscious, are examined and neutralized.
3. Let’s now think of the observer as the mindful-self. At this time, it is useful to begin what is called “mindful meditation.” Mindful meditation can of course be done as part of sitting meditation, but it is most effective when used to carry meditation into one’s daily life. Mindful meditation is simply paying attention, which most of us think is easy enough to do until we consciously begin observing our efforts to do so. Your attention will, by default, slip when it isn’t held captive by an engaging task. This is the way your brain is “wired” and is discussed elsewhere (see Chapter Six beginning on page 78 or Self-agency and Beyond) as the default mode network or relaxed attention network (RAN).
a. The objective here is to have the observer closely monitor what the body/mind is doing as it goes about its daily activities. In short, your meditation is literally on what you’re doing moment to moment. What you will observe is that many of the body’s routines are run by APs, and the default mode will try to kick in and begin to generate unrelated mental content whose purpose is to reinforce the fictive-self. If the mindful-self isn’t careful, it will get seduced by this content and lose focus on current activity.
b. Losing focus during mindfulness is especially likely when one isn’t engaged in doing something. During such times, the best tactic is to become present with anything that is available in the moment. Be present with or mindful of the sound of a breeze blowing through leaves, your dog, a ticking clock, sunlight streaming in through a window, a flower, a ceramic cup, the rise and fall of your abdomen as you breathe or whatever is available. Presence is the focus of Leonard Jacobson’s and Richard Moss’s teachings.
c. When one becomes well established in mindfulness meditation and can maintain focus on what one is doing from moment to moment or simply being present with something manifest in the moment, you are in what I call the “Teflon mind.” You are now ready for the emergence of the inquiring- self. The inquiring-self is named for the activity that establishes it, which is called “self-inquiry.” This method is often associated with the teachings of the Indian sage Sri Ramana Maharishi and is discussed in Self-agency and Beyond in Chapter Seven beginning on page 89.
4. The purpose of self-inquiry is similar to mindfulness except that it is not focused specifically on what one is doing or something that is present but on being aware of being aware from moment to moment or being present in the spacious moment. A psychiatrist, Bessel van der Kolk, identifies the medial prefrontal cortex as the part of the brain responsible for experiencing the present moment. This is located behind the area of the face called the brow. No doubt, this is why Kriya Yoga emphasizes keeping attention gently focused on this area during meditation.
a. The basic idea in self-inquiry is to establish a conscious sense of being a field of awareness. Rupert Spira teaches a simple and direct method of finding that sense. He suggests that one ask oneself the question, “Am I aware?” To answer the question, one must note that one is aware of being aware. That is where you want to be. Once you are there, you should try to relax into that state of being and remain there. There is an exercise at the end of The Looking Glass that will help you experience a state of pristine awareness.
b. As the establishment of this state progresses, there will be a perceptual shift. When this happens, you will identify yourself with conscious awareness. You will experience yourself simply as a field of awareness that includes the body/mind. However, you will not identify yourself as being the body/mind.
1. With the shift described above, you have become an aware-self or what I have described as having a natural mind. This is a refined state of duality in which you are clear of most, if not all, dysfunctional APs and are free of making or, at least, taking seriously judgments, beliefs, opinions and expectations. It is a state that allows one to hold a dispassionate view of the world and its events. It is not, however, what some call Enlightenment or Self-realization, which is a non-dual state. Arriving at what some refer to as simply I AM, you have done about all you can do. The rest depends on Grace and what I’ve referred to as being Taken.
2. According to some teachers, Enlightenment has several progressive states. There appear to be at least three states once the condition referred to as Enlightenment or Self-realization is entered. The first of these is accompanied by experiences of what some call Void Consciousness, a state described as Pure Being. It is suggested that many think this is the end state, and thinking this constrains any further progress. This may be followed by experiences of what is called God (or Christ) Consciousness, a state described as sense of Divine-Love. Finally, there may be experiences of what is called Unity Consciousness, a state described as being Love-Bliss (see charts of states here)
This third state is one in which it is said that one comes to the full recognition that one is an integral aspect of an indivisible whole. There is a direct understanding that this whole is Source Consciousness – the ground of all being and unconditional love.
Traditionally science and the educated public have held a Newtonian view of the world, which is in most respects a common sense view rooted philosophically in materialism. The materialist model is reductionist and holds that all macro phenomena can be reduced to the basic building blocks of matter, i.e. atoms. The quantum model superseded this model nearly a century ago. However, the materialist model was not supplanted but subsumed. One can think of the materialist model as a special case subsumed within the quantum model, which works well enough for many purposes but has been shown to be capable of only inaccurate approximations when tasked with describing the reality underlying the world and indeed the universe. To see an outline comparing scientific materialism with Goswami’s alternative paradigm click here.
By way of analogy, think of a computer with a huge amount of RAM or working memory. Within this “working memory” there is nestled a small reserved area, which might be thought of as having a shell that that partitions it off from the rest of working memory. Within this reserved area there is a self-evolving virtual reality program running. The program has to follow certain rules, which impose limits on what it can produce but still allows a number of degrees of freedom for its operation. From the sheltered perspective of the virtual reality program, the reality created by the program is all there is and the vast field of “working memory” within which it runs goes undetected. Think of the huge “working memory” as the unified field of consciousness, the shell around the reserved area as space/time, the self-evolving virtual reality program as the material model of reality and the rules that govern the operation of the program as classical (Newtonian) physics (see Figure below). With the advent of quantum physics, cracks have been opened in the shell. Through these cracks in the shell, the inhabitants of this world are beginning to get glimpses of a broader and deeper perspective on reality.
To appreciate the quantum perspective one needs to look at its impact on the defining aspects of the materialist model. The first aspect is causal determinism or the hypothesis that the world is a machine like a mechanical clock. Events proceed in a linear fashion, where A is the antecedent for B and B is the antecedent for C and so on. In other words classical determinism requires the identification of the originating cause and the end result. Experimental studies in quantum physics demonstrate that the exact position and velocity of an electron cannot both be known. In the Newtonian model, classical determinism depends upon being able to predict exactly both initial position and initial velocity. If things cannot be predicted with precision, classical determinism is out the window because the beginning point for the causal chain can never be known. Thus, all one can do is create probability distributions (bell curves) for both variables and identify probable values for the variables. The two distributions of values together represent a wave of possibilities. Heisenberg, one of the co-founders of quantum mechanics, expressed this finding in his now famous uncertainty principle. What is left is statistical determinism.
Why don’t we experience the effects of statistical determinism in everyday life? Planck’s constant h fixes the scale at which quantum effects are large. Fortunately, h is small, which means that quantum effects are only “large” and easily observed effects at the micro level. The small value for h hides quantum effects at the macro level. However, even macro objects have been demonstrated to retain some aspect of the wave of possibilities from which they collapsed. The wave aspect of a collapsed possibility continues to spread out over its probability distribution extremely slowly. Collapsed waves or objects (comprised of particles) are still governed by statistical determinism but the collapsed wave spreads so slowly that its inherent uncertainty can be ignored for all practical purposes. However, even though it is hardly detectable with the most sophisticated instrumentation, the continuing spread of the collapsed wave implies that there remains some connection to the wave of possibilities existing prior to collapse and material manifestation.
One way to think of this process might be to imagine that a wave of possibilities is like a continuous loop of images, where there are 6 images of A, 5 images of B, 4 images of C, 3 images of D, 2 images of E and 1 image of F. Thus, if one slows down the loop until one image becomes the focus, you have the collapse of the wave of possibilities. Statistical determinism tells us that the image that becomes the focus is most likely to be image A (p = .30) but could be image F (p = .05). The loop (wave) has taken on the appearance of a single frame (particle) or collapsed possibility wave (see Figure below). However, recall that one has only slowed down the loop, not frozen it. Thus, the loop is still progressing but in very slow motion. Whether you or other observers will ever detect this slow movement depends upon how long and with how much precision you observe the image. Even though one now observes only a single frame, that frame still retains a “hidden” connection to the loop. This analogy also illustrates the difficulty of identifying a linear chain of causation within a loop (wave of possibilities).
The second aspect of the materialist model is continuity or the hypothesis that all change is continuous. Experimental studies confirm that atomic energies exist at discontinuous energy levels, which are fixed. Thus, an electron cannot exist at intermediate energy levels residing between fixed levels. When an electron changes orbits, which are at fixed distances from the nucleus, it goes from one discrete energy level (orbit) to another in a single quantum leap. The electron’s change in orbit provides evidence for spatial discontinuity. This is further illustrated by the phenomenon known as quantum tunneling. This can be observed in transistors in which an electron disappears from one side of a barrier and reappears on the other side without passing through the barrier. More concretely, think about standing with your back to the wall of an empty room. You look to your left and there is your mother standing against the wall to your left. You look to your right and your mother is now standing against the wall to your right. You had a clear view of the entire room and you never detected your mother’s transit from the wall on the left to the wall on the right. The move was not a progressive transit of space over time but instantaneous. Your mother simply disappeared from one location and reappeared at a different location.
The third aspect is locality or the hypothesis that all effects and their causes occur in space with a finite velocity over a finite amount of time. Before quantum mechanics, all influences were assumed to be local, i.e., taking a certain amount time to travel through a certain amount of space. Think about your mother walking from one side of the room described above to the other side. However, in quantum mechanics the discontinuous collapse of a sprawling possibility wave is instantaneous and therefore nonlocal. Think of your mother as a wave of possibilities and one of those possibilities is that she will manifest on the right side of the room. When that possibility is collapsed, your mother instantly materializes on the right side of the room. A possibility wave exists in transcendent potentia, that is, outside of space and time, which is why when it collapses and becomes manifest within space-time, the effect is instantaneous. Nonlocal correlation (Einstein’s spooky action at a distance) between quantum objects has been experimentally verified and confirms that a transcendent domain is part of reality, which contradicts the locality assumptions of the materialist model and affirms non-locality.
The fourth aspect is strong objectivity or the hypothesis that the material world is independent of observers (consciousness). However, as we’ve seen, the wave is transcendent and the particle is manifest. What then causes the transition from wave to particle? It is widely accepted that observation or measurement produces the collapse. Mathematician John von Neumann suggested that the operative property in observation or measurement is consciousness since an instrument cannot observe anything. Think of a telescope pointed at the moon. Is the telescope observing the moon? Or is it the astronomer looking at the moon through the telescope that is observing the moon. While not conclusively demonstrated, it appears that consciousness chooses where a wave will manifest as a particle in a particular event. Thus, how can there be strong objectivity in physics if consciousness has the power to choose material reality? If consciousness causes wave collapse, the material world (collapsed waves) cannot be independent of observers.
The fifth aspect is reductionism or the hypothesis that every material phenomenon can be reduced to its essential components. If reductionism is correct, then all of physical reality can be reduced to elementary material particles. In other words, everything arises from the bottom up as aggregates of material particles coalesce into ever-larger objects, including us. However, if consciousness is needed to collapse waves of possibility into material actuality (particles), which is top down causation, one has mutually exclusive causal mechanisms. In such a case, reductionism ultimately fails.
In the materialist model, phenomena such as consciousness are considered as epiphenomena or secondary properties arising from matter. Thus, all non-material phenomena such as mind, thought and consciousness can ultimately be reduced to matter by considering them epiphenomena of the brain. From this view arises a dualism such that mind and body are from different classes of phenomena, i.e., a difference in kind. However, if consciousness has the causal power to determine material reality, how can it be a derivative of matter? The long, progressive build up to a material brain capable of producing consciousness could never take place, if consciousness is required for the collapse of a possibility wave into a particle of matter to begin with. Thus, while reductionism and bottom up causation may be a useful way of looking at phenomena within the context of the classical worldview, its utility is limited when it comes to understanding the ultimate nature of reality.
Thus, quantum physics has demonstrated empirically that the principles of causal determinism, continuity and locality do not in the final analysis hold up. Quantum physics has also raised serious doubts about but not yet empirically demonstrated that strong objectivity and reductionism are likewise ultimately invalid. These principles do work reasonably well in that subset of quantum reality that we think of as Newtonian or classical physics, which underlies the material model of reality. They just aren’t suitable for grasping the underlying nature of reality.
Given the above, what are the implications for how we view the nature of reality? Amit Goswami, emeritus professor of physics at the University of Oregon, offers some thoughts on this question. The implications that he draws are radical and generally considered to be extreme by many physicists because they turn the world upside down. According to the interpretation of Goswami, Consciousness is the ground of all being and matter exists only as a possibility within consciousness. Thus, there is nothing but consciousness or as some might say, God is all that is. You and I are material manifestations of God as are plants, bacteria, insects, fish, animals, chairs, shirts, houses shovels, pistols, water, earth, planets and stars, ad infinitum. From this one might jump to the conclusion that all things are interconnected. However, Goswami argues that this is an over interpretation and that any two things are only potentially interconnected. They do, however, always have in common their origins in the unified field of consciousness.
Goswami says that dualism is an illusion. The belief that the mind is distinct from the brain or that spirit is distinct from matter or that man is distinct from God is all an illusion. There is only the unified field of consciousness. Everything is a manifestation of consciousness. Consciousness permeates and fills our being, and our brain is a conduit for waves of possibility. When self focuses upon a possibility, wave collapse takes place and there is awareness of the object of the choice. The presence of awareness implies a subject-object split between the subject and the object. One might ask: if we can affect reality by our choices, why isn’t there constant conflict and chaos? For example, everyone who buys a lottery ticket would choose to have the winning number but obviously everyone’s choice can’t prevail. Goswami suggests that the reality that is commonly perceived is created by what might be thought of as a consensus of consciousness. We have the freedom to make choices that affect us but not consensus reality. We can’t personally change consensus reality.
The apparent split responsible for dualism is the product of the dependent co-arising of the subject that chooses and the objects of awareness. Herein objects refer to anything that is perceived as “not me” and can include ideas or thoughts as well as material objects. The consciousness from which both the subject and the object arise identifies with the subject pole of the dyad. This gives rise to the mistaken perception that there is a subject independent of objects. This mistake or illusion is necessary in order for experience, as we know it, to occur. The basis for this mistaken perception or illusion is self-reference, which is not unlike the circular meaning in the statement “I am a liar.” In this sentence the predicate defines the subject and the subject redefines the predicate, the predicate then redefines the subject, setting up an endless oscillation. This is called a tangled hierarchy. The meaning in this statement seemingly forever eludes us, as does the recognition that I (ego) and it (object) arise from the same source.
For Goswami the subject-object split is an epiphenomenon. If we don’t identify with the subject in the subject-object dyad we can escape the illusion. This state of consciousness is what the American mystic Franklin Merrell-Wolff called introception, which denotes consciousness without an object (and thus also without a subject). To experience a state of pure consciousness is to achieve enlightenment or bliss consciousness. The illusion of self develops as choices are made, memories are formed and habitual responses are established and reinforced. As this process unfolds, the range of free choice constricts and consciousness repeatedly collapses conditioned outcomes from among the myriad possibilities actually available. Thus, personal identity or what we call ego is created through a conditioned pattern of perception and response. Habitually adhering to this conditioned pattern in making choices is what the psychic Edgar Cayce referred to as following the path of least resistance or collapsing for oneself what is the most probable outcome or possibility. The freedom to make creative choices is always present but seldom exercised. Understanding that we have this freedom and the exercise of it allows us to step beyond ignorance and discover our true nature.
*This interpretation of Goswami’s thinking is based solely upon my understanding of Goswami’s writing and is largely based upon his book titled The Visionary Window, which I recommend to anyone who wants to pursue his reasoning more deeply.
Commentary on an essay by Richard S. Gilbert on UUA Principle Two: We affirm and promote justice, equity and compassion in human relations. Printed in With Purpose and Principle by Edward S. Frost (ed.).
In opening, Reverend Gilbert offers us a bit of history for his discussion of Principle Two, including the focus on practical application of religious principles to daily life promoted by Faustus Socinus in the 16th century Minor Church of Poland; Ralph Emerson’s emphasis on deed over creed in the 19th century; and the contemporary appeal by Eugene Pickett “…to create heaven on earth.”
Rev. Gilbert follows up on this introduction with a discussion of several concepts associated with Principle Two:
The essay defines compassion as shared suffering, which leads to empathy and finally to action. He goes on to ask, “How can we presume to understand our society without deep feelings of moral outrage at the pervasiveness of suffering and injustice?”
As I discussed in an earlier piece, I think the development of social perspective taking leads to an expansion of empathy, which in turn engenders compassion. Compassion motivates an ego-free response, if any response is possible, toward the person for whom one feels compassion. I think that “moral outrage” is an emotionally motivated egotistic state that is incompatible with both empathy and compassion.
Personally, I don’t pretend to understand our society, which is the reflection of very complex, dynamic and organic processes. I suspect that Rev. Gilbert doesn’t understand it either. I think that he has certain beliefs about society through which he filters and construes his observations. While he doesn’t elaborate on what those beliefs are, they are no doubt the source for his emotional state of “moral outrage.”
The essay also offers us the position of David Williams that states, “We are joined together by a mystic oneness whose source we may never know, but whose reality we can never doubt…We are our neighbor’s keeper, because that neighbor is but our larger self…”
David Williams seems to be offering us a vision of a transcendent self that is merged in the unity of All That Is, which is similar to the unified field of consciousness that I have mentioned in previous talks. I would suggest that Williams’ perspective on caring for our neighbors grounded in the understanding that our neighbors and we are joined through the unity of transcendent consciousness is a firmer basis for compassionate action than “moral outrage.” Thus, I find it hard to reconcile “moral outrage” with “mystic oneness” and personally would find true compassion to be more likely to arise from the latter than the former.
It seems to me that “moral outrage” must be against the alleged perpetrators of perceived injustice, which creates a dualism that is incompatible with the non-dualistic “mystic oneness” of David Williams. The “victim versus the perpetrator” struggle in Rev. Gilbert’s dualistic conception merges into transcendent unity in Williams’ non-dualistic conception. The former seeks victory of one over the other and the latter seeks reconciliation of differences. I would argue that the implications for actions arising from these two views are very different and makes this section of the essay a study in contradiction. Personally, compassion flowing from “mystic oneness” resonates better with me than “moral outrage.”
The essay states that equity is not equality but fairness. Rev. Gilbert then asserts that equity is the measuring rod for social justice and that social justice demands that society improve the conditions of its impoverished and call into question the corruption of its affluent. He asks, “How does one allocate resources and by what criteria in a free society?”
I think it is important to understand the term “fair” since this is the core meaning of equity in Rev. Gilbert’s definition of the term. According to the dictionary, the primary meaning of “fair” is “free of bias or dishonesty;” and the secondary meaning is “proper according to the rules.” Of course rules can be or not be biased or dishonest so I’ll focus on the primary meaning. Bias in a negative sense implies that a rule is constructed in such a way that it arbitrarily favors one person over another person.
For example, a law prohibiting someone from using a public water fountain because of their skin color is not fair or equitable because it is based on an arbitrary characteristic of the person. On the other hand, prohibiting someone from using a public water fountain because they have a communicable disease that can reasonably be expected to be transmitted through use of the water fountain would be fair and not an arbitrary bias. Thus, the issue is not bias per se but arbitrary bias or arbitrary discrimination. I would suggest that “dishonesty” is simply another way of saying “arbitrary bias.”
We can conclude then that justice requires that the rules or laws in a community, state or nation should be equitable, that is, free of arbitrary bias. Indeed, one of the primary meanings of justice is the quality of being equitable and one of the secondary meanings is that of lawfulness; that is, justice requires laws free of arbitrary bias both in wording and in enforcement.
The notion of “social justice” is peculiar given the understanding of justice just arrived at. Justice could of necessity only be reflected within society either at the community, state or national level and is thereby inherently social. Thus, those who use the term obviously mean something different from the meaning of justice just discussed. The term social justice was initially used in 1840 by a Sicilian priest and was, a few years later, taken up by the utilitarian philosopher John Stuart Mill. The initial use of the term was a call for virtuous behavior by parishioners in their personal dealings with others. Mill’s use of the term implied that society should behave virtuously.
The idea that an abstract entity, “society,” could take on virtue in the sense that an individual can be virtuous seems to me to be a case of fallaciously attributing human characteristics to an abstraction. Thus, what I take Rev. Gilbert to be suggesting is that some “agent” acting on behalf of society should impose his or her notion of virtue on the aggregate of individuals comprising society. This was precisely what Benito Mussolini did in his national socialist state in fascist Italy, which he proudly proclaimed to be a totalitarian state. At the time, totalitarian meant that the agent acting for the state, for example Mussolini, imposed his notion of virtue on all aspects of society or the total. Interestingly, emulation of Mussolini and his totalitarian state was suggested to Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s as the way to overcome the economic depression. Fortunately, Roosevelt declined to fully embrace the idea.
Rev. Gilbert asked the question, “How does one allocate resources and by what criteria in a free society?” I think the answer is that you don’t, because the question contains inherently contradictory elements. You can’t have an agent (or agents) acting on his or her notion of virtuous behavior decide how to allocate resources and have a free society at the same time. They are mutually exclusive. Having a so-called virtuous society would require an agent that can impose decisions about what is correct and incorrect behavior on the total population. In short, a totalitarian order imposed by dictatorial powers.
The essay goes on to address justice, which I have already given considerable attention to earlier, separately from social justice. Justice according to Rev. Gilbert requires more than can be achieved by mere compassion. He states that justice requires a systemic approach that addresses underlying problems. A systemic approach he says must address government policy, taxation, welfare programs and income redistribution among others. It requires transcendent values or virtues that, according to Rev. Gilbert, cannot be determined by democratic processes or market forces. Thus, by implication he is arguing that a systemic approach must rely on values or virtues derived from and imposed by an authority.
It seems to me that it matters little who that authority is. It is a call for an authoritarian or totalitarian approach to governing society so that it might be recast in the image of an individual or group of individuals believed by some to be virtuous. Clearly, this goes well beyond the definition of justice derived earlier as requiring that the rules or laws in a community, state or nation should be equitable, that is, free of arbitrary bias. Personally, I can embrace a definition of justice based on “equitable law” as previously discussed but find Rev. Gilbert’s notion of justice alien to my notions of equity and fairness.
The essay continues beyond the three basic elements of the second principle to talk about the Beloved Community and the Prophetic Imperative. Rev Gilbert states that the concept of a beloved community best characterizes a liberal religious concern for justice, equity and compassion, which he finds to be in step with the UU tradition of attempting to build “heaven on earth.” I am immediately reminded of a quote from the philosopher Karl Popper, “The attempt to make heaven on earth invariably produces hell.”
The reason I think that Popper draws this conclusion is that there has never been a successful utopian community over the long term. Such communities invariably fail because they ultimately require a totalitarian order formulated according to the beliefs of some authoritarian leader. Since no one is infallible, there is always a flaw in the vision of such “leaders” and ultimately “heaven” sinks back into the mundane world in which real and ordinary people live.
The prophetic imperative is, for Rev. Gilbert, the requirement that we all work to make the beloved community or heaven on earth a reality. He argues that we should attempt to repair the world, for in doing so we will repair ourselves. I’m not sure what prophecy his prophetic imperative is grounded in, but whatever it is, I am certain that it is flawed as have been all such idealistic notions.
The need to repair something implies that at one time it was in good working order. What specifically does this repair intend to restore and when and where did it exist? I believe life is too “messy” for it to ever exhibit perfection. Can a community, state, nation or indeed the world be improved? I believe it can through a spiritual practice. I also believe that it can only be done by starting with oneself, not some abstraction such as society.
In an earlier piece I offered some thoughts on employing a personal ideal or standard to guide one’s own behavior in interacting with others. Setting and following a personal ideal is a spiritual practice in its most basic sense and probably the best way to “repair” oneself. The primary way in which a personal ideal needs to be expressed is through interaction with others within the context of family, work and associations. It is in these very personal and daily relationships where you have the most power to affect the world. It is the cumulative effect of this type of action that changes the world. Change is a bottom-up process that begins with oneself, not with an abstraction. This I think was the intent behind the original use, by the Sicilian priest, of the term “social justice.”