Inorganic Awareness: Shedding the Human Form
In Rumi’s vision of what we might call “evolutionary spirituality”, human awareness is evolving towards becoming inorganic and formless. The human form is but a temporary and transient way-station in this transmigration.
That’s the implication of a quite remarkable poem that I’ve cited earlier.
I died as a mineral and became a plant,
I died as plant and rose to animal,
I died as animal and I was Man.
Why should I fear? When was I less by dying?
Yet once more I shall die as Man, to soar
With angels bless’d; but even from angelhood
I must pass on: all except God doth perish.
When I have sacrificed my angel-soul,
I shall become what no mind e’er conceived.
Oh, let me not exist! for Non-existence
Proclaims in organ tones,
To Him we shall return.
This world of Time and Death is the springboard for that leap; also, the stimulus for it.
It’s easy to scoff at this as preposterous fantasizing, even when the idea of the transmigration of awareness has been the common knowledge of mankind for millenia. It’s the basic principle of shamanism, after all. In his final summary of his years spent as an apprentice to the “sorcerer” don Juan Matus, Castaneda concluded that the ultimate goal of the shaman’s way was to become an “inorganic awareness”. And that meant, shedding “the human mold” by erasing the boundaries of the Self.
The contemporary form of this ancient belief in the transmigration has been making news lately in the form of “transhumanism” and cyborgism. The belief that consciousness can dispense with flesh and be downloaded into machine form in order to escape the frailties of the body and the world of Time and Death is just another version of the transmigration, and perhaps a very perverse version of it, regardless of whether it is realistic or feasible to believe that machines can play host human consciousness.
The transmigration of awareness between forms implies the fundamental freedom of the awareness from all forms. This is the truth from which Blaise Pascal fled in fright. Pascal in his famous Pensées saw the creature “man” as a being suspended between two abysses or “two Infinities” — Infinity and Nothingness (Pensée 72). In his view, Man’s life emerges from nothing and advances towards Infinity, (and the view left him tongue-tied). Infinity and Nothing are the absolutes, the boundaries of being corresponding, we might say, to 1 and 0 respectively. Infinity and Nothing correspond to destiny and origin, in that respect. Pascal’s “Man” must rest content with his “natural” lot between “angel and brute”.
For the life of me, I do not see what Pascal’s admirers find to admire in Pascal. He is spiritually timid. Pascal’s voice is the voice of the child who says: “The stars are so big. The earth is so small. Stay as you are!” Rumi and Pascal are antithetical types. Where Rumi boldly embraces the “emptiness” and the formless, Pascal flees from it in terror of losing the human form in the vastnesses. “The silence of the infinite spaces terrify me”, he writes, so he clings to the little voice in his head. He thus cripples himself for any kind of self-transcendence.
Nietzsche also faulted Pascal for his timidity. It is quite conceivable that when he penned Human, All-Too-Human that Nietzsche even had Pascal in mind.
Among the many ironies of Pascal’s views is his view that the double infinity in which mankind finds itself is the true alpha and omega of God.
“The visible extent of the world visibly exceeds us; but as we exceed little things, we think ourselves more capable of knowing them. And yet we need no less capacity for attaining the Nothing than the All. Infinite capacity is required for both, and it seems to me that whoever shall have understood the ultimate principles of being might also attain to the knowledge of the Infinite. The one depends on the other, and one leads to the other. These extremes meet and reunite by force of distance and find each other in God, and in God alone.”
But, Pascal then seeks refuge and sanctuary from the danger of meeting his God where? In Christianity!! The book that is celebrated as a “Christian classic” is all about how to dodge and hide from God. Church is where you go to hide from God and where you dismay at the limitations of existence.
It’s not the only place where Pascal stumbles all over himself as he rushes to escape Infinity and the Big Empty.
“For, in fact, what is man in nature? A Nothing in comparison with the Infinite, an All in comparison with the Nothing, a mean between nothing and everything. Since he is infinitely removed from comprehending the extremes, the end of things and their beginning are hopelessly hidden from him in an impenetrable secret; he is equally incapable of seeing the Nothing from which he was made, and the Infinite in which he is swallowed up.”
But, if it were true that man is “incapable of seeing the Nothing from which he was made, and the Infinite in which he is swallowed up”, how is it that Pascal “sees” them sufficiently to take fright at them as the “two abysses” and the “double infinity”?
In Pascal’s view, then, human awareness must rest content with what Nietzsche despised as the “nook-and-corner perspective” on things. Man must be content to accept his “natural” limitations and remain small, to avoid the extremes of Infinity and Nothingness.
But for Nietzsche, Blake, or Rumi, amongst others, that is not mankind’s destiny. Man is not a “mean” between Infinity and Nothing. Man is the intersection and concourse of Infinity and Nothing, if we want to put it that way. Blake’s “Eternity in the hour” and the “kingdom of God is within you” have the same meaning.
And yet, says Pascal, “one must know oneself”. How is it he knew so little, then? Another irony. He claims to loathe and despise Montaigne, an apparent stimulus for writing the Pensées, and adds “It is not in Montaigne, but in myself, that I find all that I see in him.” A confession, then, of self-loathing? If Pascal only knows himself through his reflection in Montaigne, who he despises, what does he really know of himself as anything other than “despicable me”?
Pascal is, nonetheless, exemplary, and perhaps for all the wrong reasons. It’s the manner of his response to the infinite that makes him such an interesting study, for his is the finite ego-consciousness grappling with pressure of Infinity and afraid of losing form and definition in the Stillness and Silence of the Big Empty.
Yet, he almost understands that, to become All, he must first become Nothing. But this he declines to do. He flees the extremes. Blake’s “Proverbs of Hell”, by contrast, are all about joyfully diving right into the extremes, of soaring beyond the human form into the infinite.
“More! More! is the cry of the mistaken Soul; less than All cannot satisfy Man”.
Pascal simply didn’t have the courage for it because Pascal was essentially faithless.