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The Absolute and Manifestation



Why the God of (this or that) Religion Cannot be the First Principle
The Absolute and The Manifestation
The Absolute is beyond all the worlds
The Absolute becomes all the worlds
The Higher Manifest and Noetic Manifest Absolute
The Absolute and Creation



Just as scientific Theories of Everything are based on speculations from and the newest theories in Science (specifically physics and mathematics), metaphysical Theories of Everything are based on speculations in, obviously, Metaphysics.




Why the God of (this or that) Religion Cannot be the First Principle

The logical place to begin a metaphysical thesis is with first principles. Naive understanding often has the first principle as an anthropomorphic personal Creator-God of their own religion, who makes the universe out of nothing. Science rejects this in favour of rational and materialistic causes. An alternative option is that of many Wisdom Traditions (both Eastern Philosophies and Western mystical/esoteric paths), who propose a monistic, monistic-theistic, or monistic-emanationist philosophy or theology (although still keeping to the religion of their own cultural tradition, usually (e.g. Sufism, Kabbalah) in terms of analogy or metaphor. Which option should we take?

My position here is to take the various Wisdom Traditions as valid as far as a metaphysical explanation of the universe is concerned, while being careful not to be sidetracked by the cultural and religious biases of each. And to apply science to the details of physical-mundane reality.

However exoteric and/or literalist religion is not a very good guide. For while each of the exoteric religions of the world may contain wisdom and guidance for living a good life (show kindness to others, don't steal, lie, etc), they are not of much use when formulating a Provisional Metaphysical Theory of Everything. This is because they seem unable to come to any consensus (the noble efforts of the ecumenical movement notwithstanding). They each claim their own God to be the only one, with all other Gods and religions being at best lesser interpretations, and at worst false. Now, there is a serious logically inconsistency in this, because they can't all be right! And what about all the sects and cults, with each sect and cult claiming only their leader or Guru is the World-teacher or Avatar or Christ? Again, they can't all be right. Fundamantalist religion and fundamentalist cults (whether exoteric or esoteric) are not only metaphysically ridiculous, because they all contradict each other, and there is no reason one should be preferred over another, but also morally bankrupt, because of religious persecution and holy wars they engender. Religious literalism is a hold-over from the past, a form of petty thinking we can and should joyfully discard. It is only through looking at many perspectives, not just one, and looking at them each with tolerance and sympathy, but also through both academic historical criticism and esoteric gnosis and insight, rather than naive belief (itself the result of thoughtforms) that a true understanding can be had.

For this same reason science, ideology, etc are also defficient as an overall explanation. Likewise with the various Wisdom Traditions, each presents a partial overall truth, stronger in some areas and weaker in others, but none gives the complete picture.




The Absolute and The Manifestation

Rant over. Now let's get on to the metaphysics.

To begin with then, what do we have as the First Principle? As placing here the God of one's own (or someone else's) religion doesnt work, for the reasons just explained, and as science is a methodology, not (as in its literalist misinterpretation scientism) a metaphysic, what do we have, before everything else, as the cause and support of all?

In answer, the consensus of the "perennial philosophy", mystical experience, and philosophical argument (at least my own, you may disagree) is that what we can call The Absolute Reality is the most fundamental Reality.

The Absolute is that Reality which fundamentalist religions, barely barely glimpsing it, misinterpret as the God of their own religion. The Absolute is the essence of the God of every religion, and also of no religion. It is the essence of mystical experience, the First Principle that is the "God of (i.e. as described by) the Philosophers" that exoteric theologians so dislike because of its monistic aspects, It is the God or Godhead of Negative Theology, the Absolute Non-dual Consciousness of some Eastern Philosophies like Kashmir Shaivism, the Self of Advaita Vedanta (which is the true Self in all beings), the Supreme, the All, the Totality. It is infinite, eternal, unitary, perfect, blissful, self-sufficient, and unchanging. It includes everything, is without limits and boundaries, and is the only Reality there is.

If, instead of saying "The Absolute" - a very useful term coined by Plotinus - you would rather say "God"; e.g. "God is the most fundamental Reality", it is very important to specify that this is not the God of this or that religion or sect or cult that is being referred to here. To make that mistake (i.e. to assume "The Absolute" = God of Christianity/Islam/Hare Krishnaism/etc etc etc) means literalism and its ugly corollary fundamentalism. I myself don't like using the term "God" for that particular reason. It is a word that has been misused so often, and is still misused. This is why it is perhaps preferable to have a completely new word, so as to avoid confusing "God of my (or your) religion" with "Absolute Reality". This is just my own preference of course, I am not claiming this is the only option. Many progressive religionists, new age-ists, and pop-Gurus use the term "God" to mean "The Absolute" without confusion.

What the Absolute (or "God", if you want) Creates/Becomes/Is/Always Was can be called "The Manifestation". The Manifestation, like The Absolute, is a term that is necessary because the alternatives are in some way or another misleading. To say "Cosmos" implies today the physical cosmos of science (especially physics and astronomy). To say "Creation" implies a Creator and hence the whole natural-supernatural God-world dualism thing again. The Manifestation is the Absolute, they are not two separate things. It's not like the monotheistic and secular western religions that say that reality is a duality of supernatural God and the natural World; that's wrong. There is only the Absolute, and nothing else. Or to be more precise, The Manifestation is that Aspect or Act of the Absolute whereby the the Absolute experiences Itself as having specific characteristics or modes.

This gives the following diagram:

The Absolute and The Manifestation

The question now is, what is the relation between these two principles (which are actually ultimately one principle)? How does the Absolute relate to the world?

There are (at least) two (and probably infinitely more) explanations here. One is that there is no causal relation, but the Absolute through lila or play spontaneously arises as the Manifestation. The other is that the Absolute is the first hypostasis, and through a series of emanations or gradations becomes the Manifestation, of which it is the ultimate Cause.

The former explanation is more predominat among, and beautifully described in, the various Eastern religions and philosophies. It is less often found in the Western mystic and esoteric systems, which emphasise instead the sequence of creation or emanation from the Manifest Absolute through creation down to matter. Of course these rae not hard and fast divisions, as often the "Eastern" explanation may be found in the West, and the "Westren" in the East.

Both explanations are correct, but both are only partial. Our rational minds can only grasp one thing ata time, and hence the paradox eludes us.




The Absolute is beyond all the worlds

In the former explanation, the Absolute is not something that is "above". According to the various Wisdom teachings, which indeed make up the bulk of genuine spiritual literature, the Absolute Reality is beyond higher as well as lower.  The Buddhists for example state that Nirvana is totally supra-cosmic, being as far removed from the highest God-heavens as it as from the lowest hells.  The Absolute is not a part of the "spectrum of being"; but is the Reality behind the spectrum, which equally supports and equally manifests in all the worlds, lower as well as higher. Rather than being a particular Reality it is beyond, yet at the same time the foundation, of all Realities.

Unmanifest and Manifest
Absolute Reality
[Includes and transcends
all the Worlds]
< -------
|
|------
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|------
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|------
|
|------ 
|
------
Divine

Archangelic

Angelic

Noeric

Psychic

Physical

We could say that the Monistic perspective pertains to the the Absolute or essential Reality "behind" (metaphorically speaking) all the other realities, and the Emanationist perspective to the Manifestation from Divine Spirit to Subphysical Matter.

In Itself, the Absolute Reality is eternal, infinite, unchanging, ever-perfect, ever-blissful, and totally unitary, free of all qualities and distinctions, unblemished and unobscured like - to use a popular Tibetan Buddhist analogy - the sky which is not touched by the clouds that pass in front of it.  This is the Supreme Self (Paramatman) of all beings, the Buddha-nature in all things, the void or emptiness (Shunyata), the qualityless Absolute (Nirguna Brahman) or Supreme Consciousness (Parasamvit), the "Radiant Transcendental Being" of Da Free John.




The Absolute becomes all the worlds

In the latter explanation, the Absolute is the first Hypostasis, that stands "above" and/or "behind" all the subsequent Godheads and worlds, and gives rise to them through initiating the chain of emanation.

Since we have a gradation, that implies intermediate stages. The acosmic crypto-duality of Absolute Reality and Relative Manifestation is replaced by either an intermediate principle between the original Absolute and the Manifestation, or by dividing the Absolute into an Unmanifest and a Manifest aspect. Either way, the "Manifest Absolute" serves as a sort of transitional principle sharing charcteristics of both the original (unmanifest) Absolute and the Manifestation. This can be shown either as a "chain of being" or (adopting the Kabbalistic metaphor) as concentric circles of successive focus and limitation, either way these are just man-made diagrams and should not be taken too literally.

One can even make the Manifest Absolute an aspect of the Manifestation, by dividing the Manifestation or Creation into an upper (infinite, eternal, perfect, divine, pure Spirit, absolute Consciousness, etc) and a lower (dualistic, cosmos, relative, evolving, etc) aspect. This is the solution presented for example by by Gnosticism (distinction between Pleroma and Cosmos), by Sant Mat, and by Sri Aurobindo (the seven planes divided an "Upper" and "Lower Hemisphere").



The Higher Manifest and Noetic Absolute

Exploring further the implications of emanation and hypostasis, it might be suggested (if Sri Aurobindo is anything to go by) that the Manifest Absolute can itself be divided into two aspects, a transcendent, static, absolute unitary aspect, which Sri Aurobindo calls Sachchidananda and which he divides into three planes or aspects, and a dynamic, creative Absolute, which he terms "Supermind" and which is of the nature of Infinite Truth-Consciousness. Alternatively, Sachchidananda could be termed Unmanifest, and Supermind the Manifest Absolute. In any case, Supermind or Truth-Idea constitutes the dynamic creative Godhead, as opposed to the static Sachchidananda. As such it mediates between Sachchidananda and creation, serving as a sort of mediator or "logos" (in the sense of Philo and later Christian theology) between the two.

This can be represented variously as follows:


The Relation between the Absolute and Creation

The following diagram (based on Ken Wilber's "Great Nest of being" sketch, but from the perspective of emanation rather than evolution, hence showing the pervasiveness of the greater in the lesser) shows the relation between the Absolute and Creation, which can be represented as a simple Wikipedia link Venn diagram

The Absolute and Creation

The Unmanifest Absolute is everything that is. This is the sole being, the sole reality, represented in this diagram by the large circle, and represented by the letter "A".

An aspect of the Unmanifest, the Manifest Absolute constitutes the infinite-eternal planes or aspects of eternal perfection and Absolute Unity, Consciousness, Shakti, and Bliss. This is indicated by the next circle in, and the letter "B". It is also the Unmanifest Absolute as well (hence the Middle Circle includes A as well as B).

An aspect of the Manifest Absolute is the Absolute in Manifestation, the Logos (Sufism) or Supermind (Aurobindo). This is indicated by the next circle in, and the letter "C". It is also the Unmanifest and the Manifest Absolute as well (hence the Circle includes A+B as well as C), but it is only one particular (albeit infinite, omnipotent, eternal, perfect, etc) form, which the form of Creation and Activity, and the causation of all kosmic existence (other forms or aspects would be outside this middle or intermediate circle)

Finally, an aspect (one of many) of the Noetic Absolute is the Kosmos (here using the "K" spelling to distinguish this from the physical Cosmos of science) . This is indicated by the small, inner circle, and the letter "D". It is also the Unmanifest, Manifest, and Noetic Absolute as well as being the Kosmos (hence this circle includes A+B+C as well as D), but again it is only one particular and in this case limited (albeit still perfect in its own way) form of them.

If one assumes the existence of many hypostases, modes, aspects, planes, whatever, within the Absolute Itself, then the above diagram would be even more complex.


The Cosmos or Temporal or Dualistic Manifestation

In the Supreme Absolute there is no differentiation; there is only Unity (albeit a Unity possessing different modalities, as indicated above).  But when we look at the visible and invisible cosmos, we see a branching Chain or rather chains of Manifestation or Emanations, beginning with the Absolute Unity and Infinity of the Supreme, and progressing through degrees of greater multiplicity and limitation. The form might be described as like a tree, because it begins in unity and proceeds through various ramifications. However it is also like a network, because the various worlds and branches are linked to each other, and participate in each other.

This Dualistic Manifestation comes about through the emanation of - to use Meher Baba's simple but evocative terms - Everything into Nothing.  This is the process of emanation from the supernal Godhead, which proceeds from Inward to Outward, from Spirit to Matter, from Root to Branch, through a series of stages, which can be called worlds, planes, ontocosms, hypostases, etc.

Initially, the Godhead takes the form of the highest manifest Divine reality, here called Noetic Consciousness, in which the Everything predominates.  From this in turn there emanates lesser but still transcendent manifestations, which although very elevated are still limited in relation to the original Divine Universe or Noetic Absolute.  These in turn gives rise to further manifestations, and finally the cosmos of inner Spiritual, Psychic and Physical universes, and finally the lower or hylic and the outer or surface consciousness which are more under the sway of the Nothing (i.e. ignorance, lack, and imperfection).  The Physical plane includes the mundane physical reality and many other realities as well.

Sufi and Kabbalistic teachers like Theon refer to veils or boundaries between the various hypostases, which would increase the number of hypostases even further. I would replace the term veils (which implies a passive material quality) with shaktis (which implies an active dynamic quality), thus incorporating the Tantric theme, which makes more sense here then the Sufi or Advaitin-type (kosha) concept of veils. (Veils can apply to lower cosmic or subtle physical grades of existence)

From one point of view, all these worlds, planes, and universes are actually no other than The Absolute Reality itself.  As expressed in Prajnaparamita Buddhism (see e.g. external link the Heart Sutra), there is no difference between form (manifestation) and emptiness (shunyata - the Absolute). But from another point of view they represent an actual veiling of the Divine Light and Consciousness; it is this veiling that constitutes relative mind and matter.



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text content by M.Alan Kazlev
original material first uploaded 27 May 1998;
this page uploaded 5 August 2004, last modified 22 August 2005, relocated 9 April 2008, last modified 22 May 2009