Our Astonishing Human Situation Includes The Logos Using Deep Reason After The Coronavirus To Ratify
In many religious and spiritual traditions there are three primary dimensions. Perhaps the most well-known today is “body, mind, and spirit.” In our human articulation of the ultimate nature of the universe, three dimensions of our metaphysical situation are also often elaborated. In this essay, I want to mention the dimensions of the divine (or the ground of being) that we can experience in human life and then go on to reflect on one of them: the Logos.
Logos is one of the Greek words for “reason.” However, as we will see presently, its connotations go deeper than what we ordinarily mean by “reason” today. After the current pandemic and worldwide collapse of the old system of capitalist growth economics and nation-state militarized competition, what does the Logos say to us? How do we conform human life to the “deep, substantive reason” of the cosmos itself? Below, I argue that the Logos within us, the same Logos that informs the entire cosmic adventure, urges us to ratify the Constitution for the Federation of Earth www.earth-constitution.org.
Three Metaphysical Dimensions
Many religious and spiritual traditions, including many Vedic traditions and schools of Buddhism, recognize three divine or cosmic dimensions. In this essay I will use Western terms of “Godhead, Spirit, and Logos.” Buddhism, of course (especially within the Theravada tradition) refuses to entertain such “metaphysical” questions about any “soul” (atman) or divine dimensions (Brahmin). (See, for example, Raimon Panikkar’s book The Silence of God: The Answer of the Buddha.)
Nevertheless, the Mahayana tradition does speak of “Nirmanakaya, Sambhogakaya, and Dharmakaya,” the “triple body” of the Buddha. These have direct relationships with the three Western terms in ways that we need not go into here. Similarly, in the Vedic traditions (often called Hinduism), there is the triad of sat, chit, ananda. Again, elaboration of the profound meanings of these terms, often translated as “being, consciousness, and bliss,” could be of great value in reflecting on our human situation.
The Maha Upanishad of the Vedas affirms that “the world is one family,” which follows from a proper understanding of “being, consciousness, and bliss.” Swami Agnivesh derives from these principles, not a withdrawal from the world of action but the unity of transformative action in the world on behalf of the poor and the oppressed. The awakened person serves the oneness of humanity. And part of this service, for Agnivesh, includes advocacy for ratifying the Constitution for the Federation of Earth. I want to show that this same advocacy derives from the Western triad of Godhead, Spirit, and Logos.
In my own philosophical experience, I have found that there can be great value in discussing such metaphysical ideas, in spite of the fact that both today’s “positivism” and traditional Buddhism prohibit these discussions (each for very different reasons). In an age like ours, that prides itself on its one-dimensional practical materialism and obsessive individualism, metaphysical discussion about what transcends this immature ideology may be more necessary than ever.
In fact, there is a great need to discuss these things today because the world has lost its metaphysical and religious bearings. People turn to irrational fundamentalist religious sects that are so dangerous to our entire cosmic/divine human project. Nihilistic people, with no religion and no values, dominate our governments, with nuclear weapons at their fingertips. Fascist power and hate movements are on the rise. Everywhere there is corruption brought about by militarized secrecy, capitalist greed, and human ignorance.
Today we are reaping the consequences of a paradigm that arose during the last several hundred years, a paradigm that included dogmatic individualism, scientific reductionism, extreme empiricism, and so-called “value-free positivism.” However, the ancient Western traditions did much to articulate the three dimensions of our cosmic-divine human situation, which remain as valid today as they ever were. I will take the Christian tradition as one example only, since these three dimensions of our metaphysical situation are found in many traditions.
In the Christian tradition, there is the profound doctrine of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Christian New Testament, written in Greek, calls the second “person” of this Trinity, the Logos. It calls the third person, Pneuma (spirit). And many writers in this tradition, such as Meister Eckhart, called the first person the “Godhead.” God, they say, includes all three “persons” (there is only one God, not three), but the first person (the Godhead) deserves the respect that Buddha accorded it by remaining silent. In the West this is known as “apophatic theology.” Remain silent. The Godhead transcends anything you can say or think.
14th century German Christian theologian, Meister Eckhart, expressed this everywhere in his marvelous work. The Godhead is utterly unsayable, incomprehensible, unknowable. We must become silent and discover this divine silence within (as Buddha also understood). Human beings can live from a union with this silence (since the silence is within us as well as without), transforming their lives in the process. After the pandemic, what kind of new human civilization would arise if we began to live with this awareness?
Much of the movement of Western philosophy has been to deny meaning to discussions like this. Western philosophy demands a different kind of silence—the silence of scorn for all appeals to mysticism, intuition, or awakening to the ground of being. However, even though human beings are constituted anthropomorphically in the sense that the world we encounter is a dynamic unity between the world itself and the cognitive abilities that we bring to experience that allow us to know the world, it is possible to speak of ultimate metaphysical ideas without “anthropomorphizing” them in a negative sense.
The primary western religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) all recognize a command from God that prohibits “idolatry.” The command is sometimes expressed as follows: “Do not take as ultimate what is not truly ultimate.” In my view this command prohibits fundamentalism and blind dogmatism in religion, all of which worships a false anthropomorphically conceived God. But the deep reason within us, the Logos, gives us the wondrous capacity to reflect on ultimate principles, without idolatry. Today, some thinkers, like Errol E. Harris in his book the Restitution of Metaphysics (2000), show the way for a renewed understanding of deep, substantive reason, what I am calling the Logos.
Perhaps it is especially important to apply this prohibition of idolatry to our discussions of the third “Person” of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. In the history of Christianity, anything and everything that cannot be comprehended, from plagues to eclipses of the sun and moon to radical changes of heart, have been attributed to this “Holy Spirit.” In the English language, the word “spirituality” is a vague, catch-all term that can include almost anything. One of its meanings can include what Søren Kierkegaard called “inwardness,” an inwardness that is often enhanced by mindfulness and meditation. To what degree do we focus on what goes on within ourselves? So-called spiritual people are often more deeply aware of this inwardness.
The systematic practice of inwardness through mindfulness and mediation can open our lives to “the silence of the Buddha” and even union with the Godhead as expressed by Meister Eckhart. And, of course, all this bears directly on whether, after the pandemic, we want to move forward to a planetary civilization of people who are mindful enough not to destroy ourselves through endless wars or destroy the environment that supports all life on this planet.
In the remainder of this brief essay I would like to focus not on the silence of the Godhead, important as this may be, and not on the development of mindfulness and spirituality, important as these may also be, but on the concept of reason, Logos. From the 6th century BCE, Greek thinkers such as Heraclitus were focusing on the Logos. “Logos” can mean order, pattern, speech, reason, intelligibility. Its connotations for the Greeks included all these aspects.
The Christian Prologue to the Gospel of John, an early 2nd century document, speaks of the second person of the Trinity as the Logos: “all things were made through Him; without him there was not anything that was made.” The order, the structure of the world, recognized by the human mind, was created through the Logos, identified with Jesus as the Christ. Contemporary religious thinker Matthew Fox in The Coming of the Cosmic Christ, and many Christian writers in the ancient world, rightly recognized this Logos as a cosmic phenomenon.
The work of God in the creation of an orderly world, as these thinkers sometimes put this, is cognizable by the human mind (itself a manifestation of Logos). The very order, beauty, and coherence of the world is a manifestation of God! “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth his handiwork” declares Psalm 19:1.
What astonished the Greeks (and later the Christians) came to fruition in the immense accomplishment of Plato in the 4th century BCE. This was the realization that the human mind was a microcosm of the macrocosm, that the human mind was a small universe and participated in the same structural capacity as the larger universe: the common bond was the Logos. Plato’s theme was “participation” (methexis). It was not that each individual human being had his or her little reasoning capacity that could comprehend the order of the universe (that is our dogma today). It was rather that human beings and the human mind participated in the same order of the cosmos that flows forth from its divine source. Just as the heavens declared the glory of God so did the Logos within our common humanity.
Today, since Immanuel Kant in the 18th century demonstrated the extent to which the human mind contributes to the order and beauty of the world that we experience, we are more epistemologically sophisticated, of course, than we take Plato to be. However, the skeptics and relativists, like philosophers Richard Rorty in Philosophy and The Mirror of Nature, or Michel Foucault (in all his works), or Nietzsche in the 19th century, who argue that “there is no truth”, are way off base. The universe has evolved us. Out of the universe self-consciousness and reason have emerged. As far as we know, they have only emerged in us, on tiny planet Earth. Our world, with its order and beauty and coherence is not made by us (even when we recognize Kant’s insight).
It was made by the universe. The universe has evolved creatures such as ourselves with these gifts of reason and self-awareness—a true microcosm! Within us live all the dimensions of the Christian (or Buddhist or Vedic) trinities—the silence of God, the spiritual dimension, and the Logos (the capacity to discern, and live from, the order, beauty, and magnificence of our world). The modern world, since the rise of science in the 17th century, has by and large forsaken all three of these dimensions, but here I want to speak more about the Logos.
Plato had it right in many ways, although, as mentioned above, he did not perceive the extent to which the human mind, language, and culture influence our perceptions of the world. Plato saw that there were invariant aspects of our experience of the world, that the flux of phenomena followed intelligible patterns that we could not possibly have derived from repeated observations of changing phenomena. He hypothesized that discovering these intelligible patterns was a matter of “recollection,” that there was something in the human mind linked to “eternity” or the fundamental structure of the cosmos itself. Deep learning, true learning, was “recollection” of the intelligible forms of things buried beneath, so to speak, our ever-changing consciousness.
Plato correctly discerned that the recollection of the intelligible principles on which the universe is constructed is not by itself discernment of the truly ultimate. As sacred and foundational as the principles of intelligibility and coherence may be, there is a higher source—the One, itself “beyond being” and hence beyond intelligibility (Republic sect. 509b). Plato called this “the Form of the Good,” which was the incomprehensible source from which all things flowed and to which all things returned.
The Good was beyond being and beyond knowing, but could be discerned through enlightened understanding. Like the sun, Plato argues in Book VII of the Republic, the Good connects the mind (reason) with the object of knowledge (the intelligibility of things). It is the principle behind all things, drawing into harmony human beings and the cosmos. Humanity, whose mind is informed by the deep Logos connected with the intelligible principles of the entire cosmos, is a microcosm of the macrocosm.
Later in the ancient world, both Christian thinkers like Dionysius the Areopagite and non-Christian thinkers like Plotinus associated Plato’s principles of intelligibility with the Logos and the “beyond being” source of all things with the Godhead. Both are divine principles, and therefore the coherence and order of the world are also divine. In our day, when we understand the evolutionary upsurge of the cosmos since the Big Bang, we might put it a little differently. Today, we understand that the cosmos has evolved a being capable of awareness of the cosmic process itself, whose intellect and reason are fundamental cosmic principles embodied within the human principle.
Today, we can understand that we are not just passive observers of an evolutionary cosmos but that we are, in the words of Teilhard the Chardin, “the axis and the leading shoot of evolution” itself. Our freedom has meaning, and it is not there for mere self-promotion or self-indulgence. Both capitalism and nationalism have debased and destroyed freedom.
Our freedom is connected with the very foundations of existence. Unlike Plato and Plotinus who saw the intelligibility of the cosmos in terms of emanation and involution (flowing out from and returning to the source), we now comprehend freedom also in terms of “evolution.” The intelligible principle is evolving to higher forms—in and through us. Our job is to discover how to use our freedom to further the evolution of the deep intelligence of the cosmos. The principle of order, the Logos, has come to consciousness of itself in us. Harris writes: “In human self-awareness, the nisus to the whole has become conscious of itself…. It is this self-realization that determines the ultimate standard of value” (2000, 251).
Beyond Individualism, Domination, and Exploitation
Obviously, such an understanding bears upon our climate crisis and the pandemic crisis that the world today is facing. Nature is not something that we just manipulate at our will, available for our exploitation. We have debased our world and destroyed freedom in the process. The ecological structures of relationships, of fields within fields within nature, have an integrity that we should respect, revere, and love. The principle of organization in the universe has come to consciousness of itself in us, showing us “the ultimate standard of value,” and placing a great responsibility on us to continue as “the axis and the leading shoot of evolution.”
And our human relationships with one another and with nature should follow the same ecological principles of holism, harmony, and fractal-based coherence that we find everywhere in nature. These are features of the intelligibility of the world as we now comprehend it, and it is the same principle of organization (Logos) in us that makes us capable of this comprehension. As the leading shoot of evolution, we need to be using our reason and intelligence, not for selfish personal gain or for dominating nature, and not for regressing to earlier modes of consciousness, but for creating a new future and a new world. We will see below that the Earth Constitution can be a key in this process.
The traditional view of reason as Logos and humans as microcosm of the macrocosm began to change radically in the West with the demise of Medieval thought in the 14th and 15th centuries. The rise of nominalism, led by William of Ockham in the 14th century, argued that “only individuals exist” and that all the order, beauty, and coherence that we think we experience in the world is “merely subjective.” This tendency came to a head with such thinkers as Thomas Hobbes in the 17th century who posited human existence on the basis of materialism, nominalism, and individualism as a “war of all against all.”
And, indeed, modern history has born out this model: individual persons competing within capitalism and individual militarized nation-states competing on the world stage in selfish and brutal struggles for wealth, power, exploitation, and domination (cf. Martin 2010). When nominalism argued that “only individuals exist,” it was denying an objective intelligibility and coherence to the “external world” apart from our human perceptions of it.
Reason, therefore, was no longer the microcosmic, constituent Logos of Plato and the Ancients but was now reduced to becoming an instrumental tool in the service of human subjective wants and needs. David Hume in the 18th century proclaimed that “reason is and ought only to be the slave of the passions.” Individualism, subjective passions without objective values, greed, and personal self-promotion began to characterize the Western world and much of the world colonized and influenced by the West. The whole of Western modernity follows from this paradigm shift.
Islamic criticism of Western corrupt self-indulgence understands something of this, as do many Eastern religious perspectives from Chinese Confucianism to Japanese Zen to Vedic forms of spirituality. However much we want to overcome the subjective individualism and valueless nation-state fragmentations fostered by the West, we should not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Thinkers like Jürgen Habermas and Errol E. Harris have pointed to minority traditions in Western thought (running, for example, through Spinoza, Kant, and Hegel) that preserve and deepen the sense of Logos, of deep, substantive reasoning that transcends personal individualism as well as power politics.
The laws developed by the industrializing nations from the 18th to the 21st centuries, laws fostering both unlimited the accumulation of private wealth within capitalism and militarized competition of sovereign nation-states, primarily protected “property rights” and were formulated within the context of human greed for unlimited accumulation of private wealth and national power. Capitalism saw nature as simply what Martin Heidegger called “standing reserve,” available for exploitation as a source of wealth. Sovereign nation-states in Europe and North America saw the people of Earth as nothing but inferior tribes fit only for slavery, cheap labor, and imperial domination. Individualism and fragmentation reigned supreme. Life truly became a “war of all against all.”
Today, we are at the end of this line. We are threatened for decades now with the possibility of thermo-nuclear holocaust wiping out humanity and most life on Earth. We are threatened by an accelerating global warming and brutal climate collapse. We are threatened by uncontrollable pandemics. There appears to be no way out. The powers that be are planning for “business as usual” once the pandemic subsides. But thinking people know that business as usual is a prescription for planetary ruin.
Our New Vision Means a Higher Level of Integration
Today, there are many writers talking about a new, alternative world after the epidemic subsides. Some, like Charles Eisenstein in The Ascent of Humanity, say that we must overcome our isolated individuality and become once more in harmony with nature and our surroundings (“like the hunter-gatherers” of 12,000 years ago). It is indeed true that we must foster community, harmony, and a sense of the sacredness of all existence, but we do not want to return to a more spontaneous and primitive state of oneness with nature as if reason were limited to the false Newtonian paradigm and its negative consequences for human civilization.
If we are the “leading shoot of evolution,” given freedom to participate in the immense cosmic upsurge of the cosmos, then we need to move to a higher level of maturity and integration (of unity without losing diversity) rather than attempt to recover earlier “animistic” levels of oneness with nature. The fundamental organizational principle of the cosmos, its “deep reason,” has emerged in the human phenomenon. It is there in us as much as it is manifest everywhere in nature. We become aware of it not as egoists seeing nature as an object separate from ourselves, but as manifestations of the sacred cosmic principle ourselves seeing that same principle everywhere in nature.
The works of thinkers like Teilhard de Chardin, Errol E. Harris, Henry Stapp, and Ervin Laszlo have helped make this clear. We must move to a higher level of maturity and integration. We are not just recovering what is lost but bringing our entire evolutionary history to a higher level of integration and harmony.
Another aspect of our situation that many “spiritually” oriented writers largely ignore is the structural aspect. This is quite simple and exemplified often in history. It was pointed out in a very powerful way by Karl Marx—just as individual consciousness produces certain institutional systems (e.g., our brutal and competitive system of law and private property) so institutional systems reciprocally produce human consciousness. Change the system and you go a long way toward changing the consciousness. Don’t change the system and it is nearly impossible to change consciousness. We need to unite behind the holistic system offered by the Constitution for the Federation of Earth. It will go a long way toward transforming human consciousness in the direction of peace, justice, and authentic sustainability.
We have the ability to move forward, not backward. Forward means growing to another level in which we more fully understand the role of the Logos come to self-awareness in us. We need to emphasize the Logos, the deep reason of things transcending human instrumental uses of reason. Reason is not primarily a tool of the isolated ego. It is the immense cosmic gift to humanity. The description of the new, required oneness with nature coming today from many spiritually oriented authors leaves out the Logos, the deep reason of our human situation.
The Logos is not owned by individual subjectivities. It is transpersonal. (In some Christian thinkers like Paul Tillich, the Logos transcends the separation between subject and object. It is hyper-personal). There are depth dimensions to human reason that are not instrumental or strategic but are rather “communicative and transpersonal” (has Jürgen Habermas argues) and are also cosmic and embodied within the unity of human consciousness (as Errol E. Harris argues).
Indeed, the three dimensions of the ground of being or God all need to be actualized in our lives. We need to encounter the deep, transforming silence of God. We need to encounter the spiritual dimension of inner growth and mindfulness. But we must also encounter the Logos, the deep reason of things that informs our human being as well as the cosmos. Encountering these things does not lead to our own private “nirvana” in some egoistic personal salvation. As Swami Agnivesh reminds us, the world is one family and we must recognize this through economic and political integration under the principle of unity in diversity.
The first two aspects of the divine ground of being are not sufficient without the third because very often those advocating the first two appear to negate reason, to leave out our deep, substantive reason and even the need for science, cosmology, psychology, anthropology, etc. The sciences, properly done, continue revealing the many interrelated orders of being. The true scientific spirit in its deepest sense is not about dominating nature but emerges from the deep wonder and drive to understand nature, which itself is the transpersonal Logos animating our lives. We need both climate science and non-subjective metaphysical thought just as much as we need meditation and mindfulness. The Logos is cosmic, just as spirit is cosmic, and the silence of the Godhead can be termed super-cosmic.
Whole Human Beings Require a Holistic Civilization
After the coronavirus, let us emerge as whole human beings and create for ourselves a whole human civilization. Let us emerge as the true microcosms of the macrocosm that we are, embracing not only the deep silence behind the cosmos, and the mindful spirit, but also the deep reason that gives us our wondrous human freedom, our ethical insight, and our capacity to love the intelligibility and coherence of our cosmos. After the coronavirus, we must realize that we all share a common fate on this planet and that we need political and economic structures to embody that common fate.
Embracing the Constitution for the Federation of Earth will enhance this holism immeasurably. We want to empower not only local communities but the human community as a whole. We are all microcosms in our common humanity, no matter what religion, race, culture, or nationality. The Constitution derives from a deeper rationality than mere instrumental and strategic reasoning, although it also gives the concrete procedures by which we can practically address our global problems of war, poverty, and environmental collapse.
By uniting the world politically and economically we are mirroring the harmony and coherence of nature that unites the individuals within it as ecosystems of interdependence and interrelationship. We need to cultivate the Logos-dimensions of human life by creating what Ervin Laszlo calls a “holarchy” of interrelationships on the Earth, from the local to the global. The Constitution for the Federation of Earth is designed to do just that.
The Constitution takes us beyond individualism to collective harmony. Humanity as a whole is itself a microcosm of ever-larger macrocosms, all the way to the fundamental principle of the cosmos itself. Ratifying the Earth Constitution will help us understand this. The Earth Federation will integrate us deeply into the rhythms of nature. It embodies the shape of the Logos for the 21st century, the new paradigm of unity in diversity. After the pandemic, we need to form the Federation of Earth.
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