For the sake of our discussion let us agree, at least for now, with Sanford that the term kingdom/pearl refers to a state of conscious awareness in the here and now. This will not do any injustice to the gnostic meaning of the term since in the gnostic understanding our experience of the meaning of the pearl must also be described as a state of awareness. It remains only for us to describe that particular state in order to come to a fuller and deeper understanding of the stories of the pearl and the prodigal son. We shall thereby come to a fuller and deeper understanding and appreciation of consciousness itself.
In the gnostic version of the tale the pearl is understood as something lost from the celestial realm before time began. This loss occurred in some primeval battle between light and darkness, when darkness, although defeated by light, carried away the spoils of the battle.
In this vein, the spiritual realm must regain its lost part through the salvific process, which is the young prince's mission to earth and the individual soul's participation in that endeavour. To accept this interpretation as is, however, we must accept the gnostic dualism that underlies it. But the gnostic dualism is untenable.
A brief philosophical diversion is needed here to understand why dualism remains unacceptable. Dualism attempts to answer the following question: how can the absolute and the relative both exist?
The question has been put in other terms, such as being and becoming, mind and matter, spirit and body. But no matter in what specific terms it is phrased the question remains the same.
Absolute, being, mind, spirit are all terms referring to a state or realm of reality that must, if it can be described at all, be described as ideal, abstract, invariable and eternal. Relative, becoming, matter, body are all terms referring to a state or realm of reality that can be described as real, tangible, variable and measurable in time. In practice, it boils down to asking just how does the intangible of mind/consciousness coexist in/with the tangible material body. This turns out to be a loaded question.
The question is loaded because it already assumes as a self evident premise a point of view that renders the only two possible answers to the question absurd.57 That basic underlying assumption states that the absolute and the relative are opposites. Being and becoming, mind and matter, spirit and body, in other words, are fundamentally two different categories of things. They may interact, as indeed we know they do because we experience their interaction, but they remain essentially distinct and independent.
Here we see the first crack in the gnostic position. If the gnostic absolute and relative, i.e., light and dark, are fundamentally different things with nothing in common between them, what is the cause of their primeval conflict? We should rather expect them to coexist in mutual and benign indifference.
Mani's contention that the darkness desired the light to alleviate the oppressiveness of its own company is philosophically silly. For if indeed the darkness was an independent entity unto itself it would have no way of knowing that its own company was oppressive and no reason to suspect that possession of light would in any manner alleviate the oppression. In fact, logically there is no reason to presume that darkness would ever become aware of the existence of light in the first place. So the hypothetical feud between them is the first clue that light and dark are not simply what they appear to be. They are not as different as the dualistic gnostics would have us believe.
This is the fundamental problem with all dualistic philosophies. For there is no logical reason for two elements that are totally independent to interact and no logical manner in which they could even do so, assuming that they wanted to. The only argument left to the dualistic position is simply to restate the obvious that we know the absolute and relative interact because we experience that interaction. But this in no way proves the contention of dualism.
To consider the absolute and the relative to be opposites requires that they both possess ontological being. This simply means that each exists in and of itself and needs nothing else in order to exist. But to assume such an ontological opposition between the absolute and the relative immediately renders any possible solution to the question absurd.
How do the absolute and the relative both exist? There are only two possible answers to this question and both contain self contradictions.
The first answer to the question is termed dualism. Dualism states that both the absolute and the relative exist independently of one another. Neither requires the other in order to exist. Both possess ontological being. This is the prevalent viewpoint of much of ancient gnosticism, not only Manichaeism. But it is philosophical unsound for three reasons, the first of which we have just examined, that there is no logical manner of interaction between the two.
The second reason the dualistic contention is untenable is that the relative is so only by comparison with something else. The relative always requires something in addition to itself in order for it to be judged relative. For if there were nothing to compare it to, how could we know that the relative is such? Indeed, how could we even have any notion of relativity at all? Thus,the relative can not be described as having ontological being, for it requires something other than itself to which it can be compared.
The third reason that dualism is untenable is that the absolute is not absolute if something else exists that is not a part of the absolute itself. Something can not be an ontological absolute unless it be all that there is. If there happens to be something, anything, that is not included within it, then it is not absolute. The absolute can not possess ontological being if a relative exists that is distinct from it rather than part of it.
Thus, dualism founders on the reef of its own internal contradictions. We can not demonstrate that it is possible to have both an ontological absolute and an ontological relative that are separate and distinct from one another. For this reason, we must look for another answer to the question.
To put the loaded question again. How can the absolute and the relative both exist? Another answer to this question is termed monism. Monism is really a response to the absurdity of dualism. It accepts that we can not have both an ontological absolute and an ontological relative that are distinct from one another. So monism proposes that in fact we do not have both, that either the absolute or the relative possesses ontological being, but both do not.
This is really just relative dualism. For monism does not deny that the absolute and the relative are different categories of things, it simply argues that one of the categories does not really exist in and of itself. According to monism, the absolute may be just an hallucination of the relative or the relative may be just an hallucination of the absolute. Either way, only one possesses ontological being and the other is just a figment of the imagination of the one that does.
Monism looks like a good answer at first glance. It seems to avoid the contradictions inherent in dualism. But monism, attractive as it may appear, does not escape self contradiction for two reasons.
First, monism can not explain the apparent, and so apparently real, existence of the hallucination which gave rise to the question in the first place. It can not demonstrate, other than to state that it is so, how the only thing that exists can or would imagine something that is not of itself. There is no such thing as something other than itself. Not even the possibility of something else exists.
The second reason monism fails is that the very notion of an absolute oneness excludes and thus opposes the possibility of the many. This is just another and slightly more subtle way of proposing dualism.
Thus, monism fails to answer the question convincingly. It contradicts itself just as does dualism. Monism, however, is a little more subtle at doing so than dualism. Because it is more subtle, monism has fooled more people than dualism. Hence, we must look at it more closely in order substantiate its self contradictions.
Two brands of monism warrant consideration. The first does so because it is so prevalent in our own western culture. The second because it is the basis of many influential spiritual doctrines, particularly of the orient.
The first of these two versions of monisn is material monism, which expresses the viewpoint that only the relative and material universe exists. Anything that is not material is merely imaginary or derived from the material. Consciousness and mind are postulated as epiphenomena of physical processes.
If material monism were not so rampant in the world today, we could pass over it with hardly a word, since as a philosophy it is puerile. No serious thinker from the age of classical Greece down to the eighteenth century considered it anything but puerile. Its popularity in the last two centuries stems entirely from the triumph of experimental method and scientific inquiry.
In the nineteenth century physical science had attained what it thought to be a complete understanding of the workings of existence based solely on physical laws and movements. This position was called reductionism, for all phenomena had been reduced to the consequences of simple physical processes. The machine age that directly resulted seemed to verify this optimism, although not everyone accepted the argument.
Yet even as materialism seemed to be proving its validity through the miracles wrought by science and technology, it was already beginning to demonstrate its sterility as a philosophy. In the nineteenth century began a nearly universal angst that intensified in direct proportion to the growing success of materialism.
Through science and technology, the western world entered an era of unprecedented prosperity based on the exploitation of cheap energy and cheap raw materials that has continued into the latter half of the twentieth century. No one could deny that for the first time in recorded history the vast majority of denizens of a civilization shared in the material comforts and conveniences afforded by its technology. Yet, the fly in the ointment began to become clear rather early on. Even on the relatively simple level of materiality itself, problems appeared.
At each advance made by science and technology lethal byproducts resulted. The sulphur dioxide resulting from the burning of coal rendered most cities of the nineteenth century nearly unlivable. The age of chemistry, while helping to defeat the ancient diseases of mankind with sulfa drugs and antibiotics, has brought on an epidemic of cancer and strains of microbes that are virtually indestructible. Finally, the nuclear age has introduced the most toxic and long lasting byproduct imaginable, thousands of tons of radioactive waste, increasing by thousands of tons each year, that will remain toxic for thousands of years to come.
Meeting the growing demands of a worldwide community for ever more consumable products has led to the exploitation of natural resources on a scale that is staggering. Indeed, the effects of the scientific and technological age have come precariously close to destroying the life support systems of planet earth. And this because materialism can not make the necessary connections between what it does and the effects of what it does.
We can see this fact demonstrated daily. We dig holes to bury our ever increasing mountains of garbage, but no one wants the hole in his back yard. We damn rivers, burn coal and build nuclear power plants to supply an ever increasing demand for electrical energy, but no one wants to do without any of the myriad electrical gadgets that fuel this demand. We are poisoning the air we breathe and the very plants that create the oxygen that sustains our life by automobile exhaust fumes, but no one wants to give up his car. Our cities have become sprawling wastelands of concrete, asphalt and debris, with cores of glass and steel sterility that die at 5 PM daily but keep their millions of lights burning all night long.
The great mass of western humanity lives at level of comfort and security that not even the wealthiest kings of the ancient world enjoyed. Yet, it is not enough. The truth of the statement that man lives by more than bread alone has never been more conclusively demonstrated than in our own time.
Obsessed by the ideology of materialism, people scramble to accumulate money, material possessions and status, thinking thereby to purchase happiness and contentment. They vainly attempt to satisfy psychological and spiritual needs by filling their lives with inanimate things.
Because they are simply not material, psychological and spiritual needs cannot be satisfied with the accumulation of things. Human beings require values and meaning to find any satisfaction in their lives, but since these are not material things, they go unrecognised.
Blinded by the myopic philosophy of materialism people make the mistake of thinking they can fulfil their lives by possessing things. An empty and soulless experience of life results, a life bereft of value and meaning. People die after living superficial and shallow lives.
As a consequence, despair and despondency flourish amidst affluence. Hopelessness runs rampant. Brutality, insensitivity and selfishness characterize human interactions in this age of materialism.
Ironically, twentieth century science has come nearly full circle from the mechanistic underpinnings of materialism and reductionism. As physicists probe ever deeper into the heart of matter, they discover that it looks less and less like matter. The mechanical regularity that prompted nineteenth century scientists to assert that they understood fully the workings of the universe is now seen as merely a small piece in a very large puzzle that does not admit to simple understanding.
Philosophically, reductionism can not derive such things as attitudes, values, aspirations, judgements, preferences and goals. Psychological behaviorism attempts to reduce these phenomena to chemical and neurological processes, but its theories can not account for differences. For if indeed these phenomena result only from simple chemical reactions then the range of human behaviours and motivations would be much less or at least much more easily and correctly predicted. And we know that they are not.
Ideal monism, on the other hand, argues the precise opposite point of view of materialism. Ideal monism forms the basis of nearly all oriental spiritualism and much western thought. Its influence upon the history of humanity has been enormous.
For ideal monism the finite and relative material world is an hallucination to be overcome. The material world is viewed merely as an obstacle to coming to the knowledge and experience of true reality. Although human beings appear to exist in material form, this mistaken experience of life must be recognized as illusory and gone beyond. This task is usually accomplished by some form of introspective meditation and physiological manipulation carried to the point of obvious pathological fanaticism.
According to ideal monism, it is only through the long practice of strict asceticism and abstemiousness that the flesh is put in its place and subdued. Only by extreme measures of self mortification of the body and mind can the absolute spirit recover from the disease of mistaken materiality. By self conquest the spirit frees itself forever from its unwilling bondage to relativity and the flesh.
Ideal monism, however, reveals its most basic underlying inconsistency by thus placing an inordinate value on the materiality it seeks to overcome. In the view of ideal monism, the relative and material world possesses no real existence, yet in fact and practice it is accorded an absolute status opposed to the spirit.
The idealogy of ideal monism can not explain how, if the material world is really only an illusion, it is so difficult to get out of it. Obviously, it is not an illusion in the simple sense of the word. And ideal monism does not take this into account.
Additionally, ideal monism can not demonstrate just how the absolute spirit came to be trapped in the illusion of materiality in the first place. For to suggest that the absolute is susceptible to self deception requires that we question the "absoluteness" of the absolute.
Upon examination, both brands of monism, material and ideal, reveal their self contradictions. Both fail to satisfy the question they seek to answer because there is no answer to the question, given the underlying premise of opposition.
How can the absolute and relative both exist? Dualism and both forms of monism fail to answer the question satisfactorily. As I noted previously, dualism and monism are the only possible answers to the question, given the underlying premise of opposition between the absolute and the relative. Thus,the only possible solution to this philosophical dilemma must be to rephrase the original question.
The question ought to be: How do the absolute and the relative relate to each other? The premise that underlies this rephrased question is simply that absolute and relative do exist and do interact. No opposition is implied yet their distinctness is accepted.
The metaphysic of ecstasy thus restates the question. The metaphysic of ecstasy further asserts that the absolute and the relative are not opposed to each other. It states rather that reality is neither monistic nor dualistic, but instead nondual.
The metaphysic of ecstasy contends that the absolute and the relative complement each other in a totality that equally encompasses both. Reality is both absolute and relative at the same time! Both absolute and relative are equally essential to the structure of reality!
This is a very bold metaphysical assertion that can only be based on empirical experience coupled with keen insight. Mere logical deduction could not come to such a conclusion, since it appears patently absurd that anything could be both absolute and relative. Logic asks how anything could possess ontological being and not possess it at the same time?
The paradox which defies logic is resolved readily by intuition. In a metaphysical sense only, the absolute and relative remain apart from and independent of one another. Yet the absolute permeates every atom and phenomenon of the relative and finds its expression through it. The relative is the absolute in the process of expression and experience. At the same time, the absolute does not exist apart from the expression and experience of itself as relative.
If we can accept, tentatively at least, the hypothesis of a somehow complementary relationship between the absolute and the relative, let us then follow this hypothesis to its conclusion. We are in for some surprises!
Instead of the gnostic view, with its psychological and historical premises, let us accept with Sanford an entirely psychological interpretation of the stories of the pearl and the prodigal son. If we do so, the kingdom becomes the term for a process of growth towards wholeness.
We avoid the contradictions of dualism and monism. But we are then forced to conclude that the kingdom represents something that is originally lacking. What is originally lacking is such at least in the realization of whatever it is if not in the potentiality of it as well.
Thus, the journey and what it must symbolically represent becomes a very real necessity for the realization of psychological wholeness. Only by the efficacy of what the journey of the child prince symbolically represents can wholeness be brought about.
In both the gnostic and Christian versions of the story one son makes the journey and his "brother" remains at home. In the story of the pearl the nature and relationship of these two brothers is made clear: they are two aspects of but one individuality, participating at different levels in the drama of the quest/search for the kingdom/pearl. The jealousy of the brother in the Christian version can be disregarded as moralizing. It must be remembered that we are investigating a complex metaphysical doctrine here. Nothing of the real meaning in either version of the story has to do with mere moral preaching.
If we can accept the basic premise that we are here dealing with human consciousness, then the story of the quest/search for the kingdom/pearl becomes the drama of consciousness seeking for wholeness. But we must understand this as the realization of wholeness. In its unmanifested state, before undertaking the quest/journey, consciousness does not recognise or experience its wholeness. Consciousness only has the potential for the realization of its wholeness.
The manifestation of consciousness in the relative and imperfect world of everyday existence becomes the means whereby consciousness comes to a realization of itself. It is only with the successful conclusion of the quest/journey that consciousness can actually realize its wholeness. The quest/journey must be understood as the process whereby this realization of wholeness comes about.
The father in both versions of the story, therefore, must represent a sort of naive consciousness as it is before or ulterior to the process of realization. In other words, it typifies the state of consciousness which, although underlying and hence constituting the "field" of conscious activity, remains itself unaware of its wholeness.
In the story of the pearl, it is the King who sends the Prince on his mission, while in the parable of the prodigal the son takes the initiative to leave on his own. As we can see from Sanford's discussion, both versions of the tale express a part of the truth. For both compulsion and an entirely voluntary participation are involved in the realization.
Something must occur. There is the element of necessity. Consciousness, however, takes the task upon itself willingly. As we shall see in due course, consciousness takes this task upon itself eagerly.
Upon the son's successful return in both versions, the celebrations symbolically commemorate the newly acquired state of awareness brought about by the conscious realization of wholeness. This new state of awareness is the kingdom/pearl.
It may be tempting to equate this process towards wholeness with the individual human being only. But it must be understood also to be the process of Consciousness itself towards ultimate realization of wholeness. For we are not talking here about any return to the "source" by an individual soul or human being. This is not a return to the center, or the ground, or anything else it may be called. There is nothing to which to return except that naive state of consciousness from which the process of realization represents a liberating and awakening movement.
The material/spiritual journey of the individual human being is simply the awakening of Consciousness to the realization of itself in a holistic manner that did not exist previously! Hence, relative and imperfect human life represents the manifestation of absolute Consciousness in the process of discovering and experiencing the wholeness of itself.
The attainment of metaphysical and spiritual knowledge is not a process of reviving the clouded memory of the incarnating "spirit" to its life prior to becoming immured in matter. This is the position of many philosophies immersed in dualistic and/or monistic mysticisms of both oriental and western origin.
Consciousness evolves and comes to a knowledge of itself that it did not possess before. There is nothing for consciousness to remember. There was no "before" its present existence for it to remember. Consciousness is not something ideal trapped in the material world. The spiritual and the physical are just two ways of looking at the same event. That event is the process of our realization of the wholeness of consciousness.
The process yields a new awareness that brings consciousness into a full realization of itself. As individual human beings, we are the process of discovery! Furthermore, it is within the experience of our individual human lives that this realization finds its ultimate expression.
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