Uniformity is not unity.13 min read

Since the dawn of time, the voice of truth has proclaimed the unity of creation for those who had ears to hear, and thousands of years ago the great Seers, plumbing the mystery of existence, re-echoed its strains in the exalted language of the Upanishads, so that man should mark, learn and absorb it, to his perennial advantage.

It was ever held by the wise, that the impregnation of the soul with the seed of truth, took place through the ear. We know that long before we can speak we receive instruction by word of mouth, and there is a great secret underlying the art of listening. “ The more I heard the less I spoke ”, said the sagacious owl, and man is greatly the loser, if he dissipates his energies in expression, without pausing to listen, becoming like the one of whom it was said: “A friend to him was a pair of ears.”

Those who can listen, will have mysteries revealed to them, unknown to ordinary men. Take for instance, a W. H. Hudson, an Edward Carpenter, or a Walt Whitman, who cultivated the art of listening to Nature’s voice. But we can go further by listening to those wise and holy people who speak with authority, and learn from them to listen to the inner voice which gives direct access to divinity.

What is the import of what we shall hear in this consummation of hearing ? Let us allow the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad to answer us:

“ In the whole Universe, alike in heaven and earth, there is the One without a second, nor is there anything outside or distinct from It.”

The great Teacher, Gaudapada, puts it inversely in this verse:

“All objects are in origin as limitless as space, and multiplicity has no part in them in any sense; all are by nature, deeply still, full of serenity, mutually alike and indivisible, a pure eternal identity”.

“ Sunk in multiplicity, tom asunder, they appear poor, but he to whom this eternal identity has become a certainty, he knows something great in this world, but the world understands him not.”

The Vedantist’s conception of Oneness includes all that is, whether on the physical, mental or spiritual plane, and for him, the goal of life is that man should perfect his identity with that unity.

At first sight we may well question such a statement, living as we do in the midst of variety and diversity. “ What ” we cry, “ only One without a second, nothing outside or distinct from It ? Do we not see trees, animals, clouds, men of different colour, race and creed, millions of conceptions and inventions continually coming into the realm of experience, how can this stand ? ”

Let us have recourse to the oldest Scripture in the world for our answer: “ Just as the beat of a drum, the blast of a conch, the tinkling of a bell are all nothing but sound— just as a pitcher, a plate or a jar are all clay, so all that can be perceived, conceived or imagined, is nothing but the one Consciousness or God ”   (Brihadaranyaka Upattishad’).

Remembering: “All objects are in origin as limitless as space, and multiplicity has no part in them in any sense ”, let us compare these words to the findings of modern science.

The scientist does not view the world of matter as we do, but sees in the tree, the mountain, just a mass of atoms and electrons, revolving at different rates, nor will he acknowledge such a thing as solid matter. Ancient Seers too, recognised movement in primordial substance, and gave to the varying rates of vibration or modes, in which primordial substance manifested, the name of Gunas. The heaviest, slowest mode they named “ Tamas ” or inertia ; the rapid, creative movement, “ Rajas ” ; and the finest, lightest mode, “ Sattwa ”, or the illumining mode, since it renders more apparent that which lends it animation.

Science has not named that power which gives the first impulse to creation, and perpetuates the motion of sun, moon and stars, enclosing a million harvests in one barleycorn, stretching back to the stirring of the waters before the earth emerged, and expressing itself in the kaleidescope of the world’s beauty. Yet its present and visible form is as nothing but a mere indication of a transcendent underlying harmony, and the overflow of a bliss without bourne. The Sages have named It, the One, from which all appearances are cast like shadow-forms on the screen of relative existence, supported by It and ultimately withdrawn by It.

All beings, says the Bhagavad Gita, are unmanifest in their beginning, manifest in the middle and unmanifest again at their end. Their manifest state being like shadows cast by the sun on a green sward, or symbols on a slate, that are wiped away and new symbols substituted. Not only are objects transitory, but resolved into their cause they become one with it.

Take as an illustration a chair ; it is carved from wood, the wood was a tree, the tree a sapling, the sapling a seed, the seed a combination of elements, the elements a nucleus of atpms and electrons, energy moving in differing rates of vibration, which is the medium of that Power, expressing itself through the modes or Gunas. The chair will one day decay and become dust, and the dust resolve itself into the elements again, and the cosmic ‘ House-that-Jack-Built ’ be reconstructed once more. Only that which supports the appearance, maintenance and disappearance of the chair, is eternal.

Name also is a purely artificial label, for what I call “ Chair ”, a Frenchman calls “ Chaise ”, and a German “ Stuhl ” and so on; like the form, it is superimposed on an object, which itself is purely transitory.

“ On what ”, enquires the woman Sage Gargi, “ is all this woven, warp and woof?”, meaning—on what are all these phenomena dependent ?

The Sage Yajnavalkya replies: “It is the immutable, pure Consciousness, Brahman ”.

Just as the sun by its very nature—light and heat—- lends its life to what is born and grows on the earth, so Consciousness or Brahman, by Its very nature gives rise to the relative world, and lends it animation. All takes place in Consciousness. It is hidden in its real sense, though apparent; it is unity masquerading as diversity, and by this diversity are we bemused, and we fail to discern the shape of the whole under this veil, but there is no delusion for the one who sees unity in diversity.

In the Masnavi there is a story of a man who was sent to find a certain tree which was said to be unique and its fruit of the substance of the water of life. Having met with gibes and ridicule from all of whom he enquired concerning it, he comes to a Shaykh, or holy man, and puts his difficulty to him. The Shaykh laughing replies in these words: “ O Simpleton, this is the Tree of Knowledge; thou hast gone after form, and thus gone astray, because thou hast abandoned Reality. It is that one thing from which a hundred thousand effects arise; its least effect is everlasting life. Although in essence It is single, It has a thousand effects, innumerable names may be fitted to that One. One person may be a father in relation to thee; in regard to another he may be graciousness and a friend; he is a hundred names and yet is one mjfl. Whoever seeks the mere name, is in distraction, events thou art; pass on from the name that thou mayest find the essence. The disagreement of mankind is caused “by names; peace ensues when they advance to the Reality.”

The want of discernment of that Reality is the root of all our suffering, for we identify ourselves with appearances and base our judgments on the shifting sands of sense impressions. At one time we are united with the Germans against the French at Waterloo, and then with the French against the Germans; what value has the term “ friend ” or “ enemy ”, in all this ? Of what gossamer are our likes and dislikes; a smile, and we are a partisan, a pre-occupied look and we are ranged against the subject. What insufferable manifestations the “Government”, “the Public ”, “ the Transport ” are, till we identify ourselves with them and become their champion ! Are not most disagreements but a temporary identification with a cause, a person, a belief, that we may not have held some years ago and may outgrow years hence ? With what incongruous finality we view that which is changing, growing, maturing, when we know that there is nothing static in relative existence.

Everything is moving to its consummation and will be released into the Whole from which it came. If we began with the first simple lesson of divesting man of his labels of class, creed, colour and nationality, and said with Emerson: “What concerns man concerns me, the whole world is my family ” what a smoothing of the ruffled surface of life there would be. The Quakers and the Red Cross, by seeing need, and ignoring the distinctions of nationalities have done much in the practical sphere, and when Nurse Cavell wrote: “Patriotism is not enough” she also removed one barrier to a greater unity.

Religion, with its great purpose of revelation of the spiritual truth should be the greatest unifying force in the world, but it has suffered from nothing so much as from being an exclusive principle, and this is well illustrated in the following Zen story:

“A nun, searching for enlightenment, made a statue of Buddha, and covered it with gold leaf. Wherever she went she carried this golden Buddha. Years passed, and still carrying her Buddha she came to live in a small temple where many Buddhas were worshipped, each in its own particular shrine. The nun wished to burn incense before her Buddha, but not liking the idea that the perfume of the smoke of the incense should stray to the other Buddhas, she devised a funnel, through which the smoke would ascend to her statue only. This so blackened the face of the Buddha that it was completely disfigured.”

We all know those funnels, and are often far from saying with Hafiz: “ If union with God be your motive, say to the Moslems ‘Allah ’, “Allah ’ and to the Hindus ‘ Rama’, ‘ Rama

It is natural that at different stages of development, the human understanding should give different names to, and have various conceptions of the one Reality. The soul exercises itself in diversity, and may think it discerns the shape of divinity in a totem pole, a symbol, a saint or a divine incarnation. One man feels it incumbent on him to do violence to his social instincts, and becomes a monk, another to his reason, and becomes a fanatic, or yields himself up to superstition or authority; these are phases of spiritual growth, but he must finally go beyond name and form and come to the One.

Moulana Rumi describes this in the following verse:

“ Every fair name, every deep saying you have heard,
Do not be cast down thinking it has perished, for it is not so.
While the fountain flows, the waters run from it,
Do not think the water will fail, for it is without end.
From the moment you came into the world of being
A ladder was placed before you that you might escape.
First you became a mineral, then you became a plant,
Then you became an animal, how should this be a secret to you,
Thereafter you became man with knowledge, reason and faith.
Behold the body, which is a portion of the dustpit
How perfect it has grown !
When you have travelled from man, you will doubtless become an angel.
Pass again from angelhood into that Ocean,
Your drop will become a sea which is a hundred seas.
Say ever ‘ one ‘ with all your soul.”

To recognise the play of evolution as the sport of Consciousness on the screen of Time and Causality, as it were a child playing with a lump of plasticine, making many shapes and imagining all sorts of experiences that those objects are going through, then squeezing them all into a homogeneous mass and putting it away, may give us a glimpse of the position philosophically. It is manifestly ridiculous to take the shapes seriously and attribute reality to them, since reality, name and form, are superimposed on the plasticine by the mind of the child.

Yet through the ignorance in our own minds, that is, ignorance of Reality, we constantly give the world of appearances, reality, and identify ourselves with it. Giving importance to shadows is the root cause of our discords and sufferings, and we pass our judgments and form our conclusions on wreaths of mist, since all objects are in flux in the realm of time and space. To penetrate to their origin, root and essence, is to build on a rock, and our only possible security.

What we see is but the symbol of the unseen. The visible and present is the invitation to explore the invisible and the eternal. “ You seek for lasting satisfaction ” says Boehme, “in something; it is to be found in no thing.” The soul of man is the gateway to identity with that One or Unity, and we must look within to discover it. “Be what thou art” was an Orphic saying, for what we are is what all being is, and we cannot become a conscious part of the Whole, until we turn away from outer manifestations and ally ourselves with the rest of existence.

To force all men to be alike does not bring about the brotherhood of man, for unity does not imply similarity of qualities or characteristics. Uniformity is not unity. Uniformity has been tried out by both Fascists and Communists; it involves the superimposition of the not- necessarily-good ideas of the few, on the many, and the blind acceptance of those ideas by them. Unity is the recognition of a basic identity, and the effects are an unimportant facade, veiling the main structure, and like a coat of paint, likely to be superseded again and again.

Alas ! we are so violently concerned with outward and visible signs, that we do not notice the spring of inward invisible Grace, and are perpetually suffering from a seemingly unquenchable thirst.

Reality is infinitely close to us, as close as the motion in our finger, which the Sufi says is “ neither to right nor left of the finger, nor behind it nor before; at sleep or death it departs, and on waking it rejoins the finger, but the finger is useless without it; by what way does it come into the finger ? How should the intellect find its way in this connection ? ”

No, it is not found by mental processes, but by laying down the mind, so that the One may show Itself unobstructed. St. Theresa says :

“ The mind, having neither the power nor comprehension to understand God advances towards Him by not understanding.”

If we will but lower our defences and resign our mind and will to the One, we shall find that our drop is “ the sea of a hundred seas ”. We shall see conformity in contrast, and hearing the ground-bass in the variations to the creative theme, allow that infinite Consciousness to flow freely through our personality and carry away all that limits its expansion.

Patience, courage and perseverence are needed to tread the path, but the end is sure, and its conclusion everlasting bliss.