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The Manifest Absolute

The Manifest  Absolute


From Transcendent Unmanifest to Manifestation
Sat
Chit
The Absolute's Power of Self-Manifestation
The Godhead Absolute - Infinite Good



At the beginning and essence of everything, as an expression of the Unmanifest Absolute, is the first principle, the Manifest Absolute Reality; infinite, eternal, unitary, perfect, blissful, self-sufficient, and unchanging.

It is not a Person, it is not God, or Christ or Jehovah or Allah or Krishna or Buddha.  God only comes later.  But neither is the Unmanifest mere void or nonbeing.  It is undifferentiated Reality, but a plenum of Being.

The Greek philosopher Parmenides saw the Absolute as pure changeless Being: the Indian mystic Shankara as not only Being but Consciousness and Bliss as well; the Tantrics of the Kashmir Shaivite school as non-dual consciousness; the Buddhist dialectician Nargajuna as the negation or emptiness (Shunyata) of  all conceptual characteristics; the Sufis as Ahadiya (unity), the Taoists as the essential being or "way" behind all things; the Jewish philosopher Spinoza as God; and some recent "New Age" theorisers who have been inspired by the discoveries of modern physics, incorrectly refer to it as "Energy".  All agree that the Absolute is eternal, infinite, indestructible, and uniform.  It is the one Being to which all else owes its existence and from which all else flows.


From Transcendent Unmanifest to Manifestation

The Unmanifest Godhead (i.e. the Manifest Absolute) pertains to the eternally pre-existent modes or qualities of the Absolute.  Following the terminology of Indian philosophy, these are described as Sat-Chit-Ananda, of the nature of infinite Being, Consciousness, and Bliss.

Each of these levels or stages, while remaining eternally transcendent, also constitute stages of progressive manifestation.  So the infinite Ananda decides, through its own Lila, its own innate joy and spontaneity, to become a dynamic Being, to undertake one step further towards individualisation, even though this project would lead ultimately to separation from the Source, finitude, and suffering.  For that is the nature of the Divine Play (Lila); it is - from the transcendent point of view - spontaneous bliss and joy even in what may appear to our limited perception to be the most unhappy circumstances.

This sequence of unfolding of the Supreme Godhead could perhaps be given as follows:


"Non-being" 
UNMANIFEST-UNMANIFEST 
 (Infinite Latency)
"Infinite Being"
MANIFEST ABSOLUTE
 (Prakasha predominant)
SAT
CHIT
CHIT-TAPAS
ANANDA
"Infinite Godhead"
NOETIC ABSOLUTE
(Vimarsha predominant)
"God"
MANIFEST GODHEAD (Noetic Worlds)
"Creation"
FINITE EXISTENCE
The Kosmos


Sat (Existence)

It is meaningless to speak of pure Being or pure Existence in the abstract sense.  To say that Existence exists is a tautology.  Existence, in order to have meaning, must be predicated by some entity, otherwise it is merely an abstract idea [7]

Existence, in the sense of SAT, can be taken to mean that  Absolute Existence or Absolute Reality that is eternal, infinite, changeless, and differenceless, and the Ground and Essence and Self-nature (Sanskrit - Svabava) of all things and beings.  Buddhists refer to It as Shunyata) - "Emptiness" because it is empty of all distinctons.

The equivalent Indian Vedantic term is Nirguna Brahman - the "Absolute without qualities".  But it can also be referred to as a plenum or fullness - in Sanskrit purna, which in the context of the Divine refers to fullness or perfection (so for example it is said that Krishna was a "purna avatar" or complete incarnation of  the Divine); in Greek pleroma, which in Gnosticism means the transcendent perfect World or totality of Light and Divinity.


Chit (Consciousness)

Consciousness in the ordinary sense of the consciousness of a finite being is dualistic - one is conscious of this thing or that, one's consciousness exists in relation to something else; it is "con"-sciousness.  Usually on the physical level it is dependent on, or can only function through, a specific structure, a brain and nervous system, or at least a psyche.

The Absolute Consciousness however is not dependent on or related to anything else.  It transcends all psycho-physical beings, and all subject-object relationships.  It is the self-luminious, transcendent, unchanging, eternal, infinite Awareness, that is behind all states of consciousness, all experience, all existence, all realities, even inanimate matter.  As the Advaita Vedanta says, the one Self or Atman remains the same in waking, dreaming, and dreamless sleep (i.e. in all states of consciousness).  It is the one "I", one Self, one Atman, one Existent, the basis and essence of all Reality and all beings, untouched by the phenomena it experiences, just as the blue sky is untouched by the clouds that pass in front of it.

As the Kashmir Shaivites point out, Cit cannot be proved by  any logical means, for all means of proof are dependent on and owe their existence to it, and so cannot prove their own source, just as you cannot jump over your shadow (when you move, the shadow also moves) [8].  Similarily, it is impossible to disprove Cit, for those materialists and sceptics who try to disprove consciousness by logical means have to use that very consciousness itself, just as someone who uses his toungue to say "I don't have a tongue".  As the 10th century Kashmir Shaivite philosopher Kshemaraja puts it in his commentary on the Shiva-Sutras,

"Every appearance owes its existence to the light of consciousness.  Nothing can ever have its own being without to the light of consciousness.  Being experienced, it is of the nature of consciousness itself, because of its being identical with that light" [9] .

The Absolute's Power of Self Manifestation

When the Manifest Absolute, which is beyond all qualities and description, takes on qualities, while still remaining eternal and unchanging, the result is the Noetic Absolute.

If there were only the Absolute alone in Its Transcendent pure nature, then there could be no Manifestation, not even a Transcendent Manifestation.  Consciousness would always remain just Consciousness; the Unmanifest always the Unmanifest.

But in addition to its quiescent Transcendent aspect, The Absolute also has a Creative aspect, which is Its Own Power of Self-Manifestation, which the Tantrics refer to as Shakti.  Without Shakti, that is, without the dynamic aspect of the Supreme, there is no Creation.

So the Absolute Reality is made up of two fundamental modalities; the quiescent, which is the Manifest Absolute in Its own essential, perfect, unchanging, nature, and the dynamic, which is the Absolute's own Power of self-focus and self-manifestation.  As Jaideva Singh explains, "Shakti is nothing separate from Shiva, but is Shiva Himself in His creative aspect" [p.9].  It is, as Sri Aurobindo puts it, "a self-held or self-gathered dwelling of the eternal Awareness in itself" [ The Life Divine, p.582]

The following table lists some terms for these two aspects of the Manifest Absolute


The Polarity of the Creative Absolute the Absolute in Itself The creative power of the Absolute
Gnosticism Fore-Father Barbelo
Iamblichus One - "Limit" Many - "unlimited"
Tantra in general Shiva Shakti
Kashmir Shaivism Prakasha Vimarsha
Chit Ananda
Neoconfucianism Wu Chi Tai Chi
Kabbalah Hesed Geverah
Sri Aurobindo Chit Tapas

The Godhead Absolute - Infinite Good

It may be asked why the Absolute - the Parabraman-Paramatman - which is perfect, eternal, infinite, needing nothing, desiring nothing, throw itself out into the multiplicity of worlds and forms, and all the imprefection and suffering that finite existence entails.

A number of explanations have been proposed, and no doubtless all are correct, because each represents one facet of an answer that in its totality transcends reason and the ability of the human mind to apprehend.

As the tenth century Kashmir Shaivite author Kshemaraja puts is:

"The absolute Citi [or Shakti] of its own free will is the cause of the Siddhi [literally, "perfection"; in this context the process of emanation, maintenance, and withdrawl] of the universe"
[Amazon com Pratyabhijnahrdayam : The Secret of Self-recognition, translated by Jaideva Singh p.46 (Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, 1980)]

The Absolute or "God" being perfect, its nature is also perfect. This is the basis of the Platonic idea of the Good. As Arthur Lovejoy explains and summarises


[insert quote here]

While the concept of plenitude can sometimes lead to detreminsim, it does not have to be so. Sri Aurobindo rejects the explanation that it is compelled by its own nature or plenitude or "potentiality of movement and formation" to Create.  "It is true that it has this potentiality, but it is not limited, bound, or compelled by it; it is free.  If then, being free to move or remain eternally still, to throw itself into forms or retain the potentiality of form in itself, it indulges its power of movement and formation, it can only be for one reason, for delight." [Sri Aurobindo, Amazon com The Life Divine, p.91].

This "delight" is of course not ordinary human delight (which is but a dim reflection of a reflection), but Divine, Absolute Delight or Ananda, the self-delight or Ananda of the Supreme Godhead.  For if we look at World-Existence in its relation to the Ananda or self-delight of the eternal,

"we may regard, describe, and realise it as Lila, the play, the child's joy, the poet's joy, the actor's joy,...of the Soul of things eternally young, perpetually inexaustable, creating and re-creating Himself in Himself for the sheer bliss of that self-creation...Himself the play, Himself the player, Himself the playground"
[Sri Aurobindo, Amazon com The Life Divine, p.103],

Likewise in Shakta Tantra, the reason given for Creation (the self- transformation of the One Absolute into the Many) is because the Swabhava or absolute Self-nature of the Supreme Existence-Power (or Shakti) is Lila, or Play, or more literally free spontaneous activity.  Hence, as Arthur Avalon (psuedonym of John Woodroffe) explains,

"Lalita, or "Player", is a name of the (Supreme) Mother as She who Plays and whose Play is World-Play.  She is both Joy (Ananda-mayi - literally, "made of Bliss") and Play (Lila-mayi - "made of Play")."
[Arthur Avalon, Sahkti and Shakta, p.422 (Dover Publications, NY, 1978)].

It does not really matter that sometimes Lila is identified with Krishna, at other times with the Supreme Mother.  These are just different names.  The Divine is in Itself Unitary, but when It translates Itself down into human consciousness it aquires the appearance of separate and even self-contradictory aspects.  Religious sects err by each claiming that the aspect they have chosen is the only one.  In fact, it is necessary to move beyond all such relative positions if one is to get any intimation at all of the Supreme.

Theistic religions often refer to the nature of the Creative Absolute, or "God" as they call It, as being Love.  I would prefer to interpret Love as the purest essence of the principle of manifestation, the supreme Shakti.  This Love is not the weak sentimentalism and soppy emotionalism that humans usually mean by the word.  It is the Supreme Self-Giving.  As Sri Aurobindo's co-worker the Mother explains,

"Love is universal and eternal; it is always manifesting itself and always identical in its essence...Love, the eternal force, has no clinging, no desire,....(It is) the divine intensity of self-forgetfulness, the capacity of throwing oneself out entirely, making no restriction and no reservation, as a gift, asking nothing in exchange...."
[The Mother, Conversations, pp.77-9 (Sri Aurobindo Ashram Press, Pondicherry, 1982)]

The Sequence of Realities - the primary Hypostases

Following then the above hierustic or metaphorical arrangement, and taking care not to consider this a dogma or hard fact, we can say that Reality, which is ineffable, expresses Itself in terms of several fundamental modes or aspects, each of which is infinite and is co-essential with the others. There is expression, focus, and manifestion, but not the limitation, for limit and duality only comes about in the temporal manifetsation, and even that, taken as a whole, is not limited. This can be represented in terms of the following diagram

This shows the original unity of the Absolute in Itself (top circle) or Unanifest Absolute, which polarises into Shiva (non-dual consciousness-awareness) and Shakti (the Self-Expression or Power or Activity or Self-Awareness of that consciousness-awareness) (middle circle), which constitutes the Transendent Manifest Absolute or Godhead, which in turn leads to both the Temporal and the Eternal Manifestation (lower circle), representing the Logos or Dynamic Absolute



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pages uploaded 27 May 1998 and 12 October 1998, this page 10 July 2004, last modified 26 July