Circle or Line under Most Beautiful Absolute
by Circle or Line
Gen 1:1 In the beginning God created heaven, and earth.
“In the beginning” there is no stasis, no stillness, no Eastern nirvana. God has not been sitting on His throne picking His toenails for aeons contemplating His navel. From the very beginning He has been what He is in essence – a Maker, an actor. “In the beginning” thus does not even refer to the beginning “of the universe”. It’s the beginning of something even more fabulous – the beginning is the beginning of “the story”.
And what is “the story”? The story is the Bible. But what is the Bible?
To say that the Bible is either literal or metaphorical is simply another vulgar mental dualism. Is Hamlet “literal”? Of course not. Is Hamlet “metaphorical”? Well – of course not. How can I just say that, without saying everything else about what it is? To say either that it is or isn’t “metaphorical” is to reduce it into a category, it is to lessen art into a particular way of analysis. And human beings love categories. It saves them from having to think. Simplicity is the domain of zealots, which is why truth is almost always never simple.
So in the beginning of the story we have a God who is always already making. This indeed is one of the central scandals of the Bible – that God, whom we all know is ineffable, yet also reveals Himself by acting so much like a human being. And that scandal naturally leads then to the scandal of the Christian Incarnation. And so here He is, making heaven and earth.
Now, the relationship of the heavens and the earth to God is the “beginning” of the “story”. But there is something here that is not obvious. If God “makes” both heaven and earth, then there is something immediately fishy about heaven. Heaven is not eternal in the sense usually understood – it was made. It is an accident, because it is a creation of God. Thus heaven may not stand on top of earth, but they may exist side by side, as equal creations.
All religions postulate the existence of a “structure” of reality, such as Kabbalah’s Tree of Life, the Buddhist and Hindu chakras, etc. In the West, this structure is heaven above and earth, or hell, beneath. This most basic structure is associated with a certain symbolism, for example, heaven is associated with “light” or “oneness” and hell with “darkness” or “dissolution”.
Mysticism tells us that this structure is merely a road-map, or “matrix”, upon which certain activities occur. The most basic of these activities, which is ingrained in each of us through a mass of symbolism, is descent and ascent. Descent, toward the paradigm of darkness and fragmentation. Ascent, toward the paradigm of light and oneness.
A further basic proposition of mystical systems is that these paradigms of descent and ascent are themselves integrated into a single paradigm. In Hinduism, this is the great Breath of Brahma and we can see that in this greater paradigm descent and ascent somehow succeed each other.
Let us imagine that from beginningless time there has been a moving point, whose movement consists of tending toward, but never reaching, another stationary point. The distance between the two points is first halved, and then multiplied by one plus one third, producing a new result. For example, if the distance begins at six units, that distance is first halved, resulting in three units, and then multiplied by one plus one third of three, resulting in a distance of four units. That cycle is then repeated, ad infinitum.
Now if we contemplate this, we will eventually come to see that although there is in reality only one movement, one process of what we could call “descent and ascent”, there are two perspectives as to such movement. From one perspective, we can see that this movement is akin to a pendulum. A final union of the two points can never be achieved. From another perspective, we can see that the moving point constantly moves closer and closer toward the stationary point. Progress is being made.
Therefore as to descent and ascent we can discern two differing interpretations.
The West favors the interpretation of progress, the perspective of the one point constantly moving ever closer toward the other point. We may call this interpretation “Hierarchy”, since this movement constantly progresses toward a goal, toward the other point, until it seeks to attain a point of finality.
The Eastern interpretation favors the perspective of the moving point endlessly repeating a cyclic pattern. We may call this interpretation “Circularity”, since this movement is really just a pendulum which repeats the same movement forever.
Both of these interpretations in turn result in very different views of descent and ascent.
From the perspective of Hierarchy, descent is perceived as a “fall”. This fall is a singular and inappropriate event. This descent requires a similarly singular and momentous return to the point of original separation. Descent happens once, and likewise with ascent.
From the perspective of Circularity, however, there is never any fall, nor any momentous return, there is only a recurring perpetuation which has always occurred and will always occur. In fact, within Circularity, we can say that if descent did not occur, the next cycle within the descent and ascent process likewise could not occur.
And yet, the mystical intuition is that descent and ascent can be most properly understood as neither Hierarchy nor Circularity. There is only one movement, not two. Therefore to say that there are two truths which can be assigned to a single movement is an error.
Circularity would describe itself as a “view”, insofar as it is interpreting the movement of descent and ascent in a way it would choose to call “ultimate”. Circularity is an “ultimate view” or “ultimate” truth, since Circularity correctly realizes that the other point is never finally attained, and that the two movements of descent and ascent are merely two aspects of a never-ending and perpetual movement, ad infinitum, inward and outward, forever. Circularity never really “gets” anywhere and otherwise continues within its own perpetual repetition.
Hierarchy would describe itself as a “path”, insofar as it is interpreting the movement of descent and ascent as “practical”, or “conventional”. Hierarchy is a “practical path” because there is indeed a movement ever closer toward the other point. The inward and outward movements are like steps of the left and right feet as I walk. This progression is not false, but valid and real, since the moving point does indeed always move closer to the stationary point. From this perspective the movement is indeed “getting” somewhere.
In any case, to interpret Hierarchy from the perspective of whether or not the moving point is “progressing” towards the stationary point is to miss the deeper truth about what Hierarchy is. In Hierarchy it would indeed seem pointless that the moving point never “ultimately” attains the stationary point. Yet it is equally true that in Circularity the moving point does not “point to” the stationary point. Circularity seems to reveal the “progression” of Hierarchy as a cruel joke. And there is more than a little of that in today’s nihilism. Yet Hierarchy also fulfills another function. The moving point “points to” the stationary point. This is something that Circularity cannot do. Thus Hierarchy seems to unmask the “pointlessness” of Circularity. Precisely by making itself move towards the stationary point, it makes itself into an “indicator” of that stationary point, just like an arrow, or a pointing finger. Thus, says Hierarchy, other than the fact that it is ultimate, there’s nothing special whatsoever about ultimate truth. It is, in fact, pointless.
Now, there is a fundamental truth about the single, actual movement which is deeper than either ultimate or conventional truth. This deeper truth we may call the “Absolute” truth, which is (from one perspective) neither the ultimate nor the conventional. The Absolute is not Hierarchy, since the final infinitesimal is never reached. The Absolute is not Circularity since descent and ascent is not pointless. In other words, Hierarchy and Circularity are equally dysfunctional. There is no basis within the human mind for determining which of the two truths is more fundamental than the other in an Absolute sense.
More importantly, however, within the Absolute, both truths reveal merely a single movement. Thus there cannot really be two “truths”, since there are not two movements – there is only one movement. Since there is only one movement, the two “truths” of Hierarchy and Circularity are completely dependent upon each other. If one ceased, the other would also cease. The ultimate is completely dependent upon the conventional, and vice versa. This Absolute is therefore the “fruit” produced by both the view and the path.
Yet, something final may be observed – this fruit is inconceivable, since the Absolute cannot be directly perceived by the human mind or body. We can get closer to it, when we sense, emote or intuit that Hierarchy and Circularity coalesce in one single movement – but that Absolute truth proves impossible to directly perceive or conceive by the human mind. We know it is there, we know it exists. Somehow we believe it must be possible to conceive of or perceive those truths as part of a great coalescence. But we cannot tear away the ultimate or conventional and see it explicitly. It can only be perceived indirectly via one of the two truths – Circularity or Hierarchy.
Thus Circularity and Hierarchy, Circle and Line, exist underneath a most beautiful, but elusive, Absolute. We search desperately for this Absolute, but constantly miss it, because we do not realize that the Circles and Lines which we encounter are its speech, its mantra. Emptiness speaks appearance. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.