EXISTENCE AS FORM - UNITY AND MULTIPLICITY
Ordinarily, whatever exists is conceived either as ‘form’ or ‘energy’ or as something that is interchangeable between form and energy. An integral perspective would view ‘existence’ in a ‘pure’ poise that accommodates and surpasses both form and energy. However, for our own initial clarification, we need to examine form and energy separately.
When we look around us, we perceive existence as ‘forms’. Our initial concept of ‘form’ revolves around material forms, which we interpret in terms of size, shape, colour, and texture. Such forms occupy ‘space’ and also have a ‘temporal’ perspective. At a certain point in time, a form can ‘disintegrate’ while at a certain point in time, a form can be ‘reconstituted’.
Material forms are the first level of forms. The next level is the world of ‘biological’ forms. As whatever exists can be formalized, social structures can also be conceived as variants of forms viz. families, tribes, conglomerations, communities, nations. We can also consider psychological attributes like ‘anger’, ‘love’ as forms – albeit, subtle forms but nevertheless ‘forms’. Anger, for example, is associated with a set of vibrations and ‘occupies’ a space that is not only psychological but extends to a material zone – imagine the inhibition one can have to physically approach a person swearing and shouting with rage!
Are all forms isolated entities or is there a commonality between groups of forms? It is not only spirituality and mysticism that searches for oneness. Science, in fact, is compelled to search for a commonality otherwise it cannot arrive at general laws and theories. In fact, it is science that has ‘discovered’ the commonality in material forms by discovering the atomic structure, the commonality in biological forms by discovering protoplasm. Of course, psychology finds it difficult to derive a commonality in the domain of personality because the ego imparts a separative identity to individual human forms resulting in each human being regarding ‘oneself’ as the centre of the universe.
The concept of ‘oneness’ in existence as perceived in spirituality has a connotation different than the commonality in existence derived in science.
The Sachchidananda experience gave an experiential realisation of a pure existence that was present in all forms
- material, biological or subtle as a PURE ESSENCE. IT IS THE SAME ESSENCE THAT IS PRESENT IN EVERY FORM AND IN THIS POISE IT IS KNOWN AS THE ‘SELF’.
The Self or Essence is therefore the same in all creation. Of course, in human beings, the ‘essence’ or ‘self’ is capable of being ‘conscious’, whereas in inanimate matter, it remains in the disguise of inconscience. In animal forms, it is the same ‘essence’ that is less ‘inert’ than in matter but less conscious than in human forms.
When Indian spirituality speaks of ‘oneness’ in existence, it does not denote a quantitative oneness derived from a statistical perspective, nor a qualitative oneness derived from a commonality of atomic or protoplasmic structure. Rather the ‘oneness’ is perceived as an essence that is the hallmark of pure existence. ‘One indivisible that is pure existence’ –that is how the Chhandogya Upanishad ( quoted at beginning of this chapter in The Life Divine) qualifies. It is actually the element of divinity present in creation.
The essence of existence is a pure absolute—indefinable, infinite, and beyond the constraints of space and time. ‘ It cannot be summed up in any quantity or quantities, it cannot be composed of any quality or combination of qualities. It is not an aggregate of forms or a formal substratum of forms. If all forms, quantities, qualities were to disappear, this would remain. Existence without quantity, without quality, without form is not only conceivable, but it is the one thing we can conceive behind these phenomena ‘. (The Life Divine, pg 84-85)
Unity and Multiplicity
Naturally, this ‘oneness’ in existence is the basis of the unity-principle in Reality. ‘Unity’ in spiritual terms is therefore not a hypothetical construct arising from humanitarian or social considerations but a phenomenon inherent in existence. Humanitarian or social concerns of unity and equality are derivations possible because of the underlying unity-principle in Reality.
The next question automatically arises
What is the relation between the unity and the multiplicity?
The relationship is not a relationship in ‘space’ or ‘time’; but a relationship in terms of ‘consciousness’. Pure existence is something that exceeds both unity and multiplicity – it is an X in which the multiplicities ‘pass in such a way as to cease to
be what we call form, quality, quantity and out of which they emerge as form, quality and quantity in the movement’. (Ibid, pg 85).
This means that the ‘unity’ and the ‘multiplicity’ always co-exist as different poises of the same Reality. As our ordinary way of thinking is hooked to time in a linear fashion, we tend to romanticize that at one special moment in history, there was a big gong and ‘ONE’ became ‘MANY’. Even if it is argued that there was such an event that ‘started’ creation, as we perceive, then also it can be justifiably argued that some ‘consciousness’ predated creation! That consciousness is what ancient Vedanta perceived as SAT-the Pure Existent, that is INFINITE, without end or beginning:
‘All end and beginning presuppose something beyond the end or beginning. An absolute end, an absolute beginning is not only a contradiction in terms, but a contradiction of the essence of things, a violence, a fiction. Infinity imposes itself upon the appearances of the finite by its ineffugable self-existence’.( Ibid, pg 83)
Pure Existence in its poise of unity is known as the BEING and in its poise of multiplicity is considered as the BECOMING. They are different poises of the same Reality that as pure existence surpasses unity and multiplicity.
Relevance to spiritual psychology
(a) The concept of ‘pure existent’ or Reality being represented as an ‘essence’ in all forms means that every form is potentially divine. The Divine is not a extra-cosmic phenomenon but is potentially inherent in existence. This is the reason why man can grow into the Divine. This is the reason why life, with all its imperfections, has the potentiality to be transformed into The Life Divine.
(b) The poise in which in the essence of Reality is present in individual form is known as the ‘SELF’. What we call personality in the human being is an external construct that manifests due to the interaction of the “Self’ with Nature within the constraints of space and time. Thus, spiritual psychology demands a more thorough understanding of the nature of the Being than what can be achieved through contemporary personality studies.
(c) Like the individual, the collectivity also has a collective ‘self’. As the individual ‘self’ is masked by the ‘ego’, the collective ‘self’ is also masked by the collective ego. Psychology needs to study this perspective of the collectivity so that it can understand how the ‘collective ego’ can be misconstrued as a group- self like the ‘nation-soul’ as happened in Nazi Germany.
(d) As the Pure Existent is present everywhere as an essence of Reality, a true foundation of the unity-principle in Reality emerges. Such a concept of unity revalues and reorients our attitude to life. Even in the Semitic traditions, the human being is supposed at times to dominate the earth. The Vedantic formula that one is in essence the same with all creation does not lead to dominance but an obligation on the part of the human being to be in union with others.
EXISTENCE AS ENERGY: STABILITY AND MOVEMENT
Existence is also perceived primarily as ‘Energy” rather than ‘form’. Forms are hypothesized to be convolutions or vortices of energy. Science primarily considers ‘Energy’ as a phenomenon that cannot be ‘created’ or ‘destroyed’ but can be transformed from one mode to another. A section of spiritual experience also formulates that it is ‘energy’ that activates all ‘forms’, makes them viable and gives them a meaning. In fact, an extremist spiritual position considers that ‘existence’ is only an attribute of the movement of Energy. In Buddhism, it is this ‘movement of energy’ that is symbolized as ‘Karma’, which ‘alone’ exists without any substrate to hold it. Sri Aurobindo does not concur with such an extremist view. Rather He favours the Vedantic expression ‘ which describes things in the Cosmos as one seed arranged by the universal Energy in multitudinous forms’ (Ibid, pg18). This expression was complimented by the seer- vision where ‘form of substance’ was separated from ‘form of energy’ by an arbitrary distinction in thought (Ibid,pg19).When modern science opined E=MC2, the ancient seed-idea became refreshingly relevant.
Distribution of Energy
When we consider Existence in terms of ‘energy’, we are overawed by the stupendous Energy that shapes and sustains the universe. The Energy that runs the solar system and the energy needed to build an ant-hill appear to be different but in experiential terms are alike in quality and quantity to the seer-vision.
‘Science reveals to us how minute is the care, how cunning the device, how intense the absorption it bestows upon the smallest of its works even as on the largest. This mighty energy is an equal and impartial mother, samam Brahma, in the great term of the Gita, and its intensity and force of movement is the same in the formation and upholding of a system of suns and the organization of the life of an ant-hill. It is the illusion of size, of quantity that induces us to look on the one as great, the other as petty. If we look, on the contrary, not at mass of quantity but force of quality, we shall say that the ant is greater than the solar system it inhabits and man greater than all inanimate Nature put together. But this again is the illusion of quality. When we go behind and examine only the intensity of the movement of which quality and quantity are aspects, we realise that this Brahman dwells equally in all existences. Equally partaken of by all in its being, we are tempted to say, equally distributed to all in its energy. .But this too is an illusion of quantity. Brahman dwells in all, indivisible, yet as if divided and distributed….and the consciousness of this infinite Energy …gives, not an equal part of itself, but its whole self at one and the same time to the solar system and to the ant-hill. To Brahman there are no whole and parts , but each thing is all itself and benefits by the whole of Brahman. Quality and quantity differ, the self is equal. The form and manner and result of the force of action vary infinitely, but the eternal, primal, infinite energy is the same in all. The force of strength that goes to make the strong man is no whit greater than the force of weakness that goes to make the weak. The energy spent is as great in repression as in expression, in negation as in affirmation, in silence as in sound’ (Ibid, pg 81).
Static and dynamic poise: Stability and Movement
When we talk about ‘Energy’, we usually regard it in a dynamic poise, in movement, in action. Yogic psychology explains that dynamism is only one poise of power, Power can also be represented in silence, in inaction, in a static poise. Actually, dynamism needs to be supported by a timeless poise of Stability, ‘which is immutable, inexhaustible and unexpended, not acting though containing all this action, not energy, but pure existence’ (Ibid, pg 82).
Psychologically speaking, the very term ‘movement’ carries the concept of ‘recoil from movement’:
‘The very conception of movement carries with it the potentiality of repose and betrays itself as an activity of some existence; the very idea of energy in action carries with it the idea of energy abstaining from action; and an absolute energy not in action is simply and purely absolute existence’. (Ibid,pg84)
Relevance to spiritual psychology
This conceptual distinction between energy in action and energy in inaction has a great bearing on psychological growth. If individuals are too active without a poise of silence and stability then they can be more prone to psychosomatic and psychological illnesses (this is what happens to executive work- alcoholics). The concept of energy in action and energy in inaction necessitates that our outer activity should be supported by the conscious cultivation of an inner poise of silence, quietude and stability.
The Mother succinctly puts:
“Men have a feeling that if they are not all the time running about and bursting into fits of feverish activity, they are doing nothing…. This illusion of action is one of the greatest illusions of human nature. It hurts progress because it brings on you the necessity of rushing always into some excited movement….
“Stand back from your action and rise into an outlook above these temporal motions; enter into the consciousness of Eternity. Then only you will know what true action is”. (The Mother, Collected Works,Vol.3,1978,pg66-68)
Sri Aurobindo sums up the metapsychology of the Pure Existent:
‘Stability and movement, we must remember, are only our psychological representations of the Absolute, even as are oneness and multitude. The Absolute is beyond stability and movement as it is beyond unity and multiplicity. But it takes its eternal poise in the one and the stable and whirls round itself infinitely, inconceivably, securely in the moving and multitudinous. World- existence is the ecstatic dance of Shiva which multiplies the body of the God numberlessly to the view: it leaves that white existence precisely where and what it was, ever is and ever will be: its sole absolute object is the joy of the dancing’. (The Life Divine, pg 87)
The Pure Existent in Shwetashwatara Upanishad:
6.11 and 6.12 (translated by Sri Aurobindo)
One God who alone is and He lurketh hidden in every creature, for He pervadeth and is the inmost Self of all beings, He presideth over all work and is the home of all things living. He is the Mighty Witness who relateth thought with thought and again He is the Absolute in whom mood is not nor any attribute.
One God and alone He controlleth the many who have themselves no separate work nor purpose; and He developeth one seed into many kind of creatures; the strong-hearted behold God in their own Self, therefore for them is everlasting bliss and not for others.
(Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, pg 381)
Date of Update:
- By Dr. Soumitra Basu