Chapter Five: The Paradox of Panentheism
Religion is about finding God, enlightenment, Reality, as if these were other than what is here and now. If God is you, however, then asking how to reach God is meaningless, and the work of religion is redundant. That is why few religions talk this way; it would put them out of business.
Let’s go back to our ocean/wave analogy. Imagine a wave seeking the ocean. It looks everywhere but cannot find it. Why? Because it is it. As long as the wave seeks the Other, it will find only others.
As Alan Watts used to say, this is like trying to smell your own nose or bite your teeth. You can’t do it. You can’t do it because you cannot separate yourself from yourself, and the effort to do so only makes you crazy.
St. Paul tried to explain this to the Jews: you cannot earn your way to God through ritual observance. Unfortunately he fell into an equally nasty trap thinking that you can believe your want to God instead. But this is simply another way of doing. The way to God isn’t a matter of conforming to deeds or beliefs. The way to God is to realize that there is no way to God.
There is no way to reach God because God is already here. This is why the three practices of the Nazirite are offered as abstentions. They are not things to do, but rather things not to do.
This is not as simple as it might at first sound. Not doing something is also a kind of doing, so not doing and doing are both a bit misleading. If all is God, there is nothing to do or not to do. Really understanding this puts you in a double-bind: there is nothing to do, but doing nothing is also doing something.
This is difficult for many people to grasp. The only way to make sense of this is to realize that from our perspective we see the world in two dimensions: relative and absolute. The relative world is the world of seemingly separate and competing selves that appears to us when we look at the world from the point of view of self or ego. The absolute world is the world of pure Godhead that manifests when we look from the perspective of the ego-transcended Self.
Judaism speaks of these two selves or minds as mochin d’katnut, narrow mind, and mochin d’gadlut, spacious mind. Mochin d’katnut sees the relative world; mochin d’gadlut sees the absolute world.
These two selves are not separate from one another. They are different facets of an even greater reality we call God. The two selves are like the two poles of a magnet. Each one goes with the other, and cannot be separated from the other, and both are part of the larger whole that is the magnet itself.
Yet you cannot imagine the magnet without these poles, so you cannot separate “magnet” from “poles” or “God” from “self” or “Self”. We are in a linguistic mess that has no resolution except silence. You cannot separate God from creation, and you cannot reduce God to creation. All you can do is recognize the limits of language.
As you shall see recognizing the limits of language and going on a word fast is part of what the modern Nazirite does when she abstains from intoxicants. There is nothing more intoxicating, addictive, and misleading to us humans than words. More on this latter. Given the limitations of language, we will continue to talk; just remember that we are speaking “as if” what we said were true. In fact we are only pointing toward something that words cannot carry.
The relative world of mochin d’katnut, narrow mind, is all about Us and Them. We divide the world into tribes, races, ethnic groups, friends, strangers, religions, nations, etc. We then pit them against one another, loving our friends and hating our enemies. Every once in a while a great teacher comes along who sees things from the perspective of spacious mind, mochin d’gadlut, saying, “Love the stranger” and “Love your enemies.”
Hating our enemies is natural to the relative world. Loving them only comes into play when we step out of the relative into the absolute. From this all inclusive nondual perspective we see that all the labels we are trained to kill and die for are simply various colors of M&Ms. We realize that the differences are on the surface only, and that the heart of all beings is Being Itself, God. As St. Paul wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave or free, male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” (Galatians 3:28).
At this point there is a trap that many spiritual seekers fall into: if there are no differences on the absolute realm, let’s do away with differences in the relative realm.
Such thinking reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of what these two worlds are about. The relative and absolute worlds are not options but necessities. If God is all, the God must manifest as self and other as well as that which transcends both self and other.
Just as a magnet cannot be a magnet with only one pole, so God cannot be God without both the relative and absolute perspectives. The key is not to do away with differences, but to put differences in the greater context of nonduality.
Diversity is good. Imagine a symphony comprised of only tubas, or a garden made up of only irises, or dress shop with only one size and color of dress. Difference is good, as long as it isn’t taken to be absolute.
The key is not to do away with the diversity of God’s manifestation, but to see through it to the Nondual Reality that is its larger context. And when you do you feel an intense kinship with all beings as manifestations of Being. You are infused with a sense of compassion for all life. You naturally reach out and make the relative world a better place.
Seeing the relative through the eyes of the absolute is what the Nazirite seeks to do. And you do this by removing the blinders that keep you from seeing it in the first place.
To understand what happens when you take the Nazirite Vow, remove the blinders of intoxicants, victimhood, and dead thinking, and experience the relative through the eyes of the absolute, think of a time when you mistook a piece of rope for a snake, or thought a black jellybean was a spider.
Despite the fact that the snake was only a piece of rope, your entire body responded to it as if it were a snake. Your blood pressure rose, your heartbeat quickened, you went into the most primitive brain mode of fight or flight. This wasn’t a conscious choice, it simply happened.
But what happened to the fight or flight response when you realized that the snake was only rope? Did you have to work your way out of the fear that gripped you, or did it simple vanish in the face of reality? Most likely the latter is true. Just as you didn’t choose to become frightened at the appearance of the snake, you do not choose to relax when the true nature of the snake is revealed.
This is analogous to what happens when the Nazirite glimpses, even for a moment, the true nature of the relative world. The fear and posturing that is natural to the relative world, simply evaporates. And when the period of the Vow is over it is impossible to convince yourself that the rope is really a snake.
This is not to say that you will not slip back into the illusion that the rope is a snake, only that even when you do, you will hold the illusion lightly. You will know from personal experience that things aren’t what they appear to be,
To function in the relative world you have to play the game of Us and Them, but, having seeing things from the absolute perspective, you will know that this is only a game. You may choose to play, but you will not play so intensely that you die or kill for the game.
The Bible recognizes the game-like nature of life in the relative world when it talks about the Jubilee Year (Leviticus 25:10ff). Every fifty years people are supposed to forgive all debts, and return to their original family land holdings. This is like saying life is a fifty-year long game of Monopoly.
Everyone starts our even with $200. Then over the course of the game some people buy Boardwalk and Park Place, build hotels, and collect huge rents. Others end up with Baltic Avenue and a couple of utilities and get nowhere.
When the game ends, we look to see who has won and who has lost. We congratulate the winners and commiserate with the losers. And then everyone gives back their holdings, receives $200 and gets to play all over again. Chances are there will be new winners and new losers emerging over the next fifty years. The fun is not limited to winning; it is intrinsic to the play.
Back in the 1970’s I was trained as a New Games facilitator. New Games was a movement fostering cooperative play. Competition was part of our play, but winning was not the point. Having fun and building community through play was the point. Our motto was “Play Hard. Play Fair. Nobody Hurt.”
This is a good motto for living in the relative world. We should play hard, for that is where the fun is. We should play fair, for there is no joy in cheating. We should take care that no one is hurt. Losing is not the same as being hurt. There are and always will be winners and losers in the relative world. This is problematic only if the losers lose unfairly or are treated unjustly. Which brings us to the topic of being godly.