The Nature of God
The Nature Of God
By Dylan Woodward of The First Contact Ground Crew Team
I myself have read a great deal of theological reasoning about the existence of God, and it all starts out along this line: If you are intelligent and reasonable, you cannot be a product of a mechanical and meaningless universe. Figs do not grow on thistles, grapes do not grow on thorns; therefore you, as an expression of the universe, as an aperture through which the universe is observing itself, cannot be a mere fluke.
Because if this world peoples, as trees bring forth fruit, then the universe itself – the energy which underlies it, what it is all about – must be intelligent. Now when you come to that conclusion, you must be very careful, because you make an unwarranted jump to the further conclusion that that intelligence, that marvelous designing power which produces all of this, is the Biblical God. Be careful. Because that God, contrary to His own commandments, is fashioned in the graven image of a paternal, authoritarian, beneficent tyrant of the ancient Middle East. It is very easy to fall into that trap because it is all prepared, institutionalized in the Roman Catholic Church, in the synagogue, in the Protestant churches – all there ready for you to accept.
Under the pressure of social consensus it is very natural to assume that when somebody uses the word God, it is that father figure which is intended, because even Jesus used the analogy of the father for his experience of God. He had to, there was no other one available to him in his culture. Nowadays we are in rebellion against the image of the authoritarian father. This is especially true in the United States, which is a republic rather than a monarchy. But to reject the paternalistic image of God as an idol is not necessarily to be an atheist.
I have advocated something called atheism in the name of God. That is to say, an experience, a contact, a relationship to God with the ground of your being, that does not have to be embodied or expressed in any specific image. Theologians on the whole do not like that idea. I find in my discourse with them that they want to be a bit hardnosed about the nature of God. They want to say that God has indeed a very specific nature. This ethical monotheism holds that the governing power of this universe has some extremely definite opinions and rules to which our minds and acts must be confirmed. If you do not watch out, you will go against the fundamental grain of the universe and be punished. In old-fashioned parlance, you will burn in the fires of hell forever. In modern terms, you will fail to be an authentic person. It is just another way of talking about it.
There is this feeling you see, that there is this authority behind the world and it is not you, it is something else. This approach, which is Judeo-Christian, and indeed Muslim, makes a lot of people feel estranged from the root and ground of being. There are, in fact, a lot of people who never grow up and who are always in awe of the image of grandfather.
Now I am a grandfather, and I am no longer in awe of grandfathers. I know that I am just as stupid as my grandfathers were. Therefore, I am not about to bow down to an image of God with a long white beard! We intelligent people do not believe in that kind of God, not really. I mean we think that God is spirit, that God is undefinable and infinite and all that sort of thing; but nevertheless, the images of God have a far more powerful effect upon our emotions than on our ideas.
And when people read the Bible and sing hymns like “Ancient of days who sittest throned in glory” and “Immortal, invisible God only wise, in light inaccessible hid from our eyes” they have still got that fellow up there with a beard. It is way back in the emotions. To offset this, we should think in contrary imagery, and the contrary imagery is: She is black. Imagine instead of God the Father, God the Mother,
and instead of an illuminous being blazing with light,
an unfathomable darkness. This idea is portrayed in Hindu mythology by Kali, the Great Mother. She is represented in the most terrible imagery. Kali has fangs and a lolling tongue drooling with blood; she has a scimitar in one hand, a severed head in the other, and she is trampling on the body of her husband, Shiva. Shiva represents, furthermore, the destructive aspect of the deity, wherein all things are dissolved so that they can be reborn again. Here is this bloodsucking, terrible mother as the image of the supreme reality behind the universe. She is the representative of all the most awful things of which we are most terrified.
This is a very important image. Suppose you are presently feeling fairly good. The reason you know you are feeling fairly good is that way far off in the background of your mind, you have got the sensation of something absolutely ghastly that simply must not happen. And so, against that which is not happening, and which does not necessarily have to happen, by comparison you feel pretty good. That absolutely ghastly thing that must not happen is Kali.
We must begin to wonder whether the presence of this Kali is not in a way very beneficent. How would you know that things were good unless there were something that was not good at all?
She is black. This is not a final position but a way of beginning to look at a problem and of getting our minds out of their normal ruts. She, that is to say, the feminine, represents what is philosophically called the negative principle. Of course, people in our culture today who support women’s liberation do not like to hear the feminine associated with the negative, because the negative has acquired very bad connotations. We say that we should accent the positive; that is a purely male chauvinistic attitude. How would you know if you were outstanding unless by contrast there was something in standing?
You cannot appreciate the convex without the concave. You cannot appreciate the firm without the yielding. Therefore, the so-called negativity of the feminine principle is obviously life-giving and very important. But we live in a culture that does not notice it. For example, our attention fixes itself upon figures and ignores backgrounds. We see a painting, a representation of a bird, and do not notice the white paper underneath it. We see a printed book and assume what is important is the printing and that the page doesn’t matter. But if you reconsider the whole thing, how could there be visible printing without the page underlying it?
We somehow consider an underlying position, like the missionary position, to be inferior. But to be underlying is to be fundamental. The word substance refers to that which stands underneath (sub – underneath and stance – stands). To be substantial is to be underlying, to be the support, the foundation of the world. This is the great function of the feminine, to be the substance.
The feminine is therefore represented by space, which appears black at night. Were it not for black and empty space, there would be no possibility whatsoever of seeing the stars. Stars shine out of space and astronomers are beginning to realize that stars are a function of space. Now this seems contrary to our common sense because we think that space is simply nothingness, and do not realize that space is completely basic to everything. It is like your consciousness. Nobody can imagine what consciousness is. It is the most elusive whatever-it-is of all.
Because it is the background of everything else that we know, we don’t really pay much attention to it. We pay attention to the things within the field of consciousness, to the outlines, to the objects, to the so-called things that are in the field of vision, the sounds that are in the field of hearing, and so forth. But what it is – whatever it is – that embraces all of that, we don’t pay much attention to it. We cannot even try to think about it.
It is like trying to look at your head. Try to look at your head and what do you find? Not even a black blob in the middle of things; you just do not find anything. And yet, your head is that which you see, just as space is that out of which the stars shine.
There is something very odd about all of this. That which you cannot put your finger on, that which always escapes you, that which is completely elusive – the blank, seems to be absolutely necessary for there to be anything whatsoever. Now let us take this further. Kali is also the principle of death because she carries a scimitar in one hand and a severed head in the other.
Death is tremendously important to think about. We put it off. Death is swept under the carpet in our culture.
In the hospital they try to keep you alive as long as possible, though it may be an utterly desperate situation. They will not tell you that you are going to die. When relatives have to be informed that it is a “hopeless” case, frequently they are warned not to tell the patient. And all the relatives come around with hollow grins and say “Well, you’ll be all right in about a month, and then we’ll go and have a holiday by the sea and listen to the birds.” And the dying person knows this is a mockery.
We have made death howl with all kinds of ghouls. We have invented dreadful afterlives. The Christian version of heaven is as abominable as the Christian version of hell. Nobody wants to be in church forever! Children are absolutely horrified when they hear these hymns which say “Prostrate before Thy throne to lie and gaze and gaze on Thee.” Now, in a very subtle theological way I can wangle the hymn around to make it extremely profound. To be prostrate, and yet to gaze (see) at the same time is coincidentia oppositorum, a coincidence of opposites, which is very deep. But to a child it is a crick in the neck. We are faced with the idea that what might happen after death is that we are going to be confronted by our own judge, the one who knows all about us. This is the Big Papa who knows you were a naughty boy or a naughty girl from the beginning of things. He is going to look right through to the core of your inauthentic existence – and what kind of heebie-jeebies may come up!
You may believe in reincarnation and think that your next life will be the rewards and the punishments for what you have done in this life. Well, you know you got away with murder in this life, and the most awful things are going to happen next time around. You look upon death as a catastrophe.
Then there are other people who say “When you’re dead, you’re dead.” Just as though nothing is going to happen at all. So what do you have to worry about? Well, we don’t quite like that idea, it spooks us.
You know what it would be like to die? To go to sleep and never, never wake up? There are a lot of things it is not going to be like. It is not going to be like being buried alive. It is not going to be like being in the darkness forever. I tell you, it is going to be as if you never had existed at all. Not only you, but everything else as well. There just never was anything, and there is no one to regret. And there is no problem. Think about that for a while. It is kind of a weird feeling you get when you really think about that. Really imagine it. Just to stop altogether, and you cannot even call it stop, because you cannot have stop without start. There was no start, there was just no-thing.
If you think about it, that is the way it was before you were born. If you go back in memories as far as you can go, you get to the same place. And as you go forward in your anticipation of the future, as to what it is going to be like to be dead, then you get funny ideas. That this blankness is the necessary counterpart of what we call being. Now we all think we are alive. We think we are really here. How could we experience that as a reality unless we had once been dead? What gives us any ghost of a notion that we are here except by contrast with the fact that once we were not? And later on, will not be? This thing is a cycle, like positive and negative poles in electricity. This is the value of the symbolism of
She is black
She, the womb principle, the receptive, the in standing, the void and the dark. What could light shine out of except darkness?
If we can grasp this, many fascinating consequences follow.
There is no true blackness in nature. I have a supposedly black cat, but upon close inspection this cat is dark brown. All shadows are colored. When I feel low sometimes I say “Help, I’m discolored.” Just as there are no black cats, there are not really any black people. I am a somewhat pasty pink rather than a true white, while my so-called black friends are various shades of brown. At the same time, the use of the word black contains something very meaningful. It is the principle of the night. The other side of light is important because it shows us that light cannot be light without black. Therefore, we must abandon the theology in which the light and the darkness are irreconcilably opposed to each other. It is the most schizophrenic possible view to think of light/white as good, that which is whole and must be preserved, and darkness/black as evil, dirty, and to be abandoned or discarded. The light and the darkness, the white and the black, the yang and the yin, are indispensable to each other.
We do not want to think of the resolution of the two as a kind of muddy mixture of black and white. We try to think what it is that is common to light and darkness, black and white, that escapes our imagination. When male and female meet – really meet – something happens between them which escapes their imagination. “I love you.” What does it mean? A woman may ask a man “Why do you love me?” And he fumbles “I don’t know, there is a little something about you that I can’t put my finger on. Please don’t ask me to explain.”
Then on some occasion a man may say “Oh, the situation is perfectly clear, it’s thus and so, everyone understands that” and the woman says “Well, maybe, but I think there is something you have left out, something very important that you have failed to include in your idea. It doesn’t feel right to me.”
And this is the everlasting game between the two, so that they are interminable mysteries to each other. Women look knowing and think that they understand men. And men look fierce and think that they understand women. But it is not so.
Neither understands the other, and that is as it should be. If we understood everything completely down to its very roots we would be bored. Everything would be predictable.
What is more of a bore than knowing a person so well that their reactions to everything under the sun are predictable? You know automatically what their opinion will be on any subject and therefore you do not bother to discuss anything. Indeed, such a predictable person is very vulnerable, because anybody whose habits are completely predictable is, as Don Juan told Carlos Castenada, easy prey.
Always be surprising and, furthermore, surprise yourself!
The only way that you can be truly irregular is not to know yourself, in your own head, what you are going to do next. This is as Jesus taught. He said that everyone who is born of the Spirit is like the wind which blows where it wills, and you hear its sound but you cannot tell where it is coming from or where it is going. He also advised his disciples that when they were going to speak they were not to think in advance of what they would say, but just wait for the Spirit to give it to them. (Naturally all clergymen are trained to prepare their sermons carefully in advance!)
It is the unknown that is profoundly scary to most of us.
We fear that God – that is to say, the ground of our being, the energy which we all express – should remain unknown. We fix on all these images of one kind or another, whether it be male or female, light or dark, and we all know very well that what is essential to us cannot be gotten at, and that worries us.
To abandon ourselves peacefully and truly in a surrendered way to the possibility of death, to the nonexistence of our memories, of our egos; to flip over from isness to isnotness; to yield to the feminine, which we gladly do when engaged in sexual intercourse, something very closely associated in all symbolic history with death: These are steps that cause us much anxiety. We are at once fascinated and horrified by this thing that we can never know, never control. We thus come into the presence of the God who has no image.
Behind the father image, behind the mother image, behind the image of light inaccessible, and behind the image of profound and abysmal darkness there is something else that we cannot conceive at all. This is not atheism in the formal sense of the word. It is a profoundly religious attitude, because in practical terms it corresponds to an attitude towards life of total trust and letting go. When we form images of God they are all really exhibitions of our lack of faith. We want something to hold on to, something to grasp, the rock of ages, or whatever. But only when we do not grasp do we have the attitude of faith.
Ordinarily, if I were to present you with an idea that seems to you completely negative, abolishing all the certainties to which you feel you ought to cling and apparently leaving you in the midst of the void, I would normally be thought of as a nihilist, a destroyer. It is true in a way that this is a Shiva attitude, a destructive attitude. But again we come to the idea of atheism in the name of God. Only if you are willing to let go of all these conceptions can you really discover yourself.
If you let go of all the idols you will of course discover that this unknown which is the foundation of the universe is precisely you. It is not the you you think you are.
It is not your opinion of yourself. It is not your idea or image of yourself. It is not your chronic sense of must. Your self, you see, is way beyond all of that. It is something you could never catch hold of.You cannot grasp it; why would you need to?
Suppose you could; what would you do with it? You can never get at it.
The attitude of faith towards that profound central mystery is to stop chasing it.
If that happens, the most amazing things will follow. If I try to improve myself and control myself by lifting myself up by my own boot straps, I will waste energy indefinitely; it cannot be done. When I abandon the attempt, suddenly all that energy that I have been wasting is available to something else.
Most of us are in a constant state of tension about whether we are going to survive or not. Every minute of driving on the freeway you wonder whether you are going to survive. Take an airplane and you wonder whether you are going to survive. You wonder where the money is going to come from to buy groceries tomorrow. We are absolutely absorbed by this need to survive. We are “tired of livin’ and scared of dyin’.”
Suppose you realize that it does not matter whether you survive or not. Do you really need to survive. Would you not feel much better if you gave up the need to survive? Would you not feel freer? Would you not have more energy available
for glorious things? Would you not be able to love others more if you were no longer concerned about whether you are going to survive?
We have been taught that we must go on, it is our duty. It is not.
All these ideas of the spiritual, the godly, and the dutiful are not the only way of being religious. There is an ineffable mystery that underlies ourselves and the world. It is the darkness from which the light shines. When you recognize the integrity of the universe, and that death is as certain as birth, then you can relax and accept that this is the way it is.
There is nothing else to do.
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