Note: Principal Bible quotations are taken from The Jerusalem Bible, with occasional additions from the King James Bible, the Revised Standard Version, and the Vulgate.
Several years back I tried to formulate a philosophy of consciousness. Somewhere along the way it occurred to me that the mind is a series of fields, encompassing action, thought, feelings (called sense), and the spirit. Yet their separate existence is an illusion of sorts. All fields are ultimately one—the “Field at the End of All Fields”—all-encompassing and all-sufficient. It is the end or goal to where they lead. Philosophers have thought and written about the end, teleology, the explanation of phenomena in terms of the purpose they serve rather than of the cause by which they arise, the doctrine of design and purpose in the material world”. Teleology, (from the Greek telos, “end,” and logos, “reason”), is explained by reference to some purpose, end, goal, or function. Traditionally, it is also described as “final causality”. Adding to this, many religious thinkers have devoted their efforts to what will happen and what will follow at the end of individual human life.
There was an inspiration which led to my thinking about fields. One of the great fortunes of my childhood was to live literally a stone’s throw from Recreation Park in Long Beach. I still recall the sense of freedom from being able to “escape” into is great expanse to wander. While it was not wild nature, it was a touchstone for my spirit. My childhood would have been far different without it. Children should feel free to wander in nature (either God-made or man-made), to utilize their powers of imagination in creative outdoor play, to have large, safe public places available for their expression of youthful energy. Sadly, this is not always the case. I would like to think, however, that in a released state we will be similarly free to explore, to be a part of the infinite variability of the Divine, to bathe in the fullness of the life everlasting. It would indeed be a blessing.
The Field at the End of All Fields is also known as the One. In the Upanishads the One is described as “the Person” but also as “Being” (less personal). It is for each to choose whether the personal or the impersonal aspect is more appropriate. Following the argument for purpose and structure earlier in this book, I am firmly on the side of Divine Personhood, convinced that we have emanated from and reflect that divine nature. This is for each of us to decide.
With that introduction, let me explain where I am going. Many views on human destiny exist and are possible. This is only logical as we have no certainty here and now. The pathway I have chosen is not only aligned with Divine Personhood but has several component parts which complement each other and support the strength of the argument.
First there is the notion of dissolution—it is a universal aspect of life: all things must eventually break down. It is physically true and, by extension, it is reasonable to assert its relevance to the human psyche as well. Yet that word fills us with dread, as we do not want to lose to personality, the lifetime of thoughts, actions, relationships, and feelings we have gained. Many hold fast to their belief in survival as persons, resisting the thought of merging into the Divine. Yet it need not be annihilation. We approach this final, largely hidden and unknown field with awe. The Celtic term for this was wyrd (from which weird comes.) This vibrant ground of being, the store of what is rich and full, hums like the intoning of AUM or Amen. It beckons, and radiates, drawing us into the thrall of the divine. We should not fear, but rejoice. AUM or Amen is the seed word which carries the distillation of life’s deepest and most meaningful experiences, serving as a touchstone of what is rich and full. It has the power to carry
the meditator to the ecstatic core of existence, the depth experience and dimension of the field. We touch the great stream of Being, the “God life”, linking all that arises to the river which flows to eternity. The more real our touch becomes, the more at home we feel with the universe. The changes, difficulties, and uncertainties of this life will be more efficiently resolved into the whole of our being.
Several sources can provide reassurance. Robert Ernest Hume, translator of the Upanishads, writes, “….the loss of finite individuality in the real Self that is unlimited is the supreme achievement. This doctrine is set forth in parables from nature in the ‘That-art-thou’ section of the Chandogya [Upanishad] 6:9-10. ‘As the bees, my dear, prepare honey by collecting the essences of different trees and reducing the essence to a unity, as they are not able to discriminate “I am the essence of this tree”, “I am the essence of that tree”—even so, indeed, my dear, all creatures here, though they reach Being, know not “We have reached Being”…These rivers my dear, flow, the eastern toward the east, the western toward the west. They go just from the ocean to the ocean. They become the ocean itself. As there they know not “I am this one”, “I am that one”—even so, indeed, my dear, all creatures here, though they have come forth from Being, know not “We have come forth from Being”. It is the very consciousness of ‘this’ and of ‘I’ which is the limitation that separates one from the unlimited. And individuality and self-consciousness must be lost ere one reach that infinite Real.” [and affirming the reality of Divine Personhood in the Praśna Upanishad 6:5] “ ‘As these flowing rivers that tend toward the ocean, on reaching the ocean, disappear, their name and form [or individuality] are destroyed, and it is called simply the ocean’—even so of this spectator these…that tend toward the Person, on reaching the Person, disappear, their name and form are destroyed, and it is called simply ‘the Person’ ”
What is our individual destiny in all this? Do we simply disappear? Bede Griffiths’ addresses this question:
“And finally, in the Godhead itself, does the person remain? The idea of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is precisely that, in the ultimate Godhead beyond words or thought….We cannot conceive it, but we can suggest how it can be….’that they may be one, as Thou in me, and I in Thee, that they may be one in us.’ ” [River of Compassion: A Christian Commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, p. 172 ]
In Vedanta and Christian Faith Griffiths places the argument in Christian terms:
“In the Christian conception the place of matter in the ultimate state of man is revealed in the doctrine of the resurrection of the body….This ‘body’ cannot be properly conceived, since it would transcend the present condition of space and time…In that state the human consciousness
would transcend both sense and reason and know everything intuitively from within. The world of matter, which we know externally through the senses, would then be known internally, just as to the extent we now know our own bodies. But in that state the body, and within it the whole material universe, would be completely translucent, a pure expression of the inner life of the Spirit….God can take up nature and man by a free act of his grace, so as to share in his own life and knowledge and bliss….A Christian will never say that the soul is of the same essence as
God….They [Christians] compare the soul to air which is wholly filled with light and manifests the light, yet does not become light….It is yet to Sankara that we must turn for the most profound conception of the ultimate state of man and the universe….man will share in the ‘non-dual’ being….man will know himself in ‘identity’ with God….Then we can say that the whole universe ‘of insentient and sentient beings’ will become the ‘body’ of God….we shall at last know ‘even as we are known.’ In this view of the ultimate mystery of being, which is the
beginning and the end of all our human aspiration, Hindu and Christian unite not only with one another but also with the Buddhist and the Muslim.”
Finally, he addresses human destiny: “Instead of this gross body which will disintegrate, and this psychic organism which, in so far as it depends on the body, will also disintegrate, the body and soul are totally united in the One, the Spirit, the Self, the Atman, and we experience God in total unity. The resurrection of body and soul in the Spirit was the original purpose of creation. In that state the one Spirit is manifesting himself in every level of being without any darkness or ignorance, suffering or death.” In other writings he compares the process to the dissolution of salt in water, which, while it cannot be seen, does not lose its “salt-ness”. Arthus Koestler, in The Act of Creation, echoes this observation, writing, “A few steps higher on the intensity scale, and the ‘I’ no longer seems to exist, to dissolve in the experience like a grain of salt in water; awareness becomes de-personalized and expands into the ‘oceanic feeling of limitless extension and oneness with the universe’ [Romain Rolland]….The craving for the womb, for the dissolution of the self in a lost, vegetative oneness–Freud’s Nirvana principle–is further symbolized in the image of mother ocean in whose calm depths all life originates. However bewildering they may appear to the waking mind, they are similiar to the dreamer, and recur constantly in the sleep of people who have nothing else in common.”
The “oceanic feeling” is a powerful image indeed. Swami Prabhupada provides the analogy of salt and water, which to me is convincing, logical, and satisfying: “The salt in a drop is never comparable to the quantity of salt present in the complete ocean, but the salt present in the drop is qualitatively equal in chemical composition to all the salt present in the ocean. If the individual living being were equal to the Supreme Lord both qualitatively and quantitatively, there would be no question of his being under the influence of material energy.”
Henry Thoreau’s nineteenth century view was surprisingly modern, in his Journal (February 20, 1841): “I am attired for the future so, as the sun setting presumes all men at leisure and in contemplative mood,–and am thankful that it is thus presented blank and indistinct. It still o’ertops my hope. My future deeds bestir themselves within me and move grandly towards a consummation, as ships go down the Thames. A steady onward motion I feel in me, as still as that, or like some vast, snowy cloud, whose shadow first is seen across the fields. It is the material of all things loose and set afloat that makes my sea.”
It should come as no surprise that Jesus, who expressed the philosophy of “die to live” and illustrated his teachings with the burial and subsequent sprouting of the seed, should be associated with the inner meaning of baptism as a burial followed by a subsequent life with him in the resurrection. Dying to live involves the lessening of ourselves to get out of the way of the divine process. Here it is important for us to comprehend that in the spiritual sense we can neither have nor hold nor possess anything—all we have, all we are, is a reflection of the divine. This not only relieves us of the responsibility for our own destiny but allows us to rid ourselves of all that would limit us in our entry to and union with the divine. John 12:23-26 contains this teaching: “I tell you most solemnly, unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest. Anyone who loves his life loses it; anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it for the eternal life. If a man serves me, he must follow me, wherever I am, my servant will be there too. If anyone serves me, my Father will honor him. If a man serves me, he must follow me, wherever I am, my servant will be there too. If anyone serves me, my Father will honor him.”
When one creates a space in the inner being which is no longer filled with self, the greater Self, the animating Spirit, rushes in, much as a reservoir may be filled with water during the rainy season. I can sense this when Jesus speaks of the promise of living water in John 7:38, inviting all who are thirsty to come to him, assuring the believer that “from his breast [KJV belly] shall flow fountains (streams, rivers) of living water. This can literally be felt as a physical sensation in the solar plexus as we enter into the divine mystery.
I must include the consideration of what will pass through to the life beyond. Those who have read my post The Gate, the Raft, the Bridge: On What Will Pass Through will know the requirement that only that which is small, very small, will succeed in passing. Humility is a powerful and essential tool and serves this vital purpose.
Christian baptism goes far deeper than the outward symbol is a sprinkling or immersion with water. As it turns out, baptism and burial are intimately linked, and not burial as an act in itself but a burial with Christ. Consider this teaching from the New Testament in Colossians 2:9-13: “In his body lives the fullness of divinity [Jerusalem Bible notes: “The word pleroma is defined as the ‘divinity’ that is actually ‘filling’ Christ now in his body; in other words, the risen Christ, through his incarnation and resurrection, unites the divine and the created. The former is what he is by his pre-existence and his present glory; the latter is, as human, what he has assumed directly, and, as cosmic, what he assumed indirectly through being human. In this way he himself is the Pleroma of all possible categories of being.”] and in him you too find your own fulfilment, in the one who is the head of every Sovereignty and Power. In him you have been circumcised, with a circumcision not performed by human hand, but by the complete stripping of your body of flesh. This is a circumcision according to Christ. You have been buried with him, when you were baptized; and by baptism, too, you have been raised up with him through your belief in the power of God who raised him from the dead. You were dead, because you were sinners and had not been circumcised: he has brought you to life with him, he has forgiven us all our sins.”
New Testament teaching explains that baptism, the spiritual event beyond from the outer ritual, is in fact a burial and a transformation. We are buried with Christ and, following his journey, are now resurrected and live with him. And, if we are buried correctly, the Spirit, the divine Wisdom (expressed in various terms in different traditions) now descends upon us to coexist and draw us into his spiritual life and power. We are assumed into the Lord of all, and, like the vine and the branches, derive our life from him. We no longer have to be preoccupied as to whether our spiritual practice, our yoga, our way of living, is good enough. In our humble submission to him, which is our burial, he has assumed all of that. The result is an immense sense of freedom, for truly his yoke is easy and his burden is light.
The baptism theme is so important that it appears in several other scriptural affirmations:
Romans 6:3-11: “You have been taught that when we were baptized with Christ Jesus we were baptized in his death; in other words, when we were baptized we went into the tomb with him and joined him in death [Jerusalem Bible notes explain: “The etymological meaning of ‘baptize’ is ‘dip’ and thus ‘buried’ with Christ, with whom he emerges to resurrection as a ‘new creature’, a ‘new man, a member of one body animated by one spirit] so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too might live a new life. If in union with Christ we have imitated his death, we shall also imitate him in his resurrection. We must realize that our former selves have been crucified with him to destroy this sinful body and to free us from the slavery of sin [Vulgate: “Our old self has been crucified with him, in order that the body of sin may be destroyed, that we may no longer be slaves to sin.”]. When a man dies, of course, he has finished with sin. But we believe that having died with Christ we shall return to life with him: Christ, as we know, having been raised from the dead will never die again. Death has no power over him any more. When he died, he died, once for all, to sin, so his life now is life with God; and in that way, you too must consider yourselves to be dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus.” [KJV: “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death; that the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”; RSV “For if we have been united with him in a death lie his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
Judgment and forgiveness of sins is part of the Christian message and of other traditions as well. It is another reason to rely upon the grace of the Divine Person. You might think that as my life has gone on, my sense of error and failure would recede, but they have not–I have become increasingly aware of my sins. Call it crazy, but I actually want to be judged—to take account of the ways in which I have strayed from the path and to seek the mercy of the Divine to make it right. Yet I also take encouragement from the Divine Person’s ability to burn out sin, as attested by the Brihad-Aranyaka Upanishad 1:4:1: “He who burned out all sins before all—everyone—is Purusha.’ [Hume’s translation uses this helpful Sanskrit terminology to explain: “…Since before (purva) all this world he burned up (root us) all evils, therefore he is a person (pur–us–a) According to this, the derivation of the word ‘Puruśa’ is from ‘purvam’ (before or being in front of) and osah (burning).] The Man burns out sin….” We find this idea echoed in 1 John 3:9 “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his sin remaineth in him; and he cannot sin because he is born of God.” And of course, there is John the Baptist’s exclamation in John 1:29, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” If for no other reason we should side with the argument for Divine Personhood, it is this.
And so this pathway has a chain of support making it a strong one: dissolution—die to live—passing through—baptism—judgment—forgiveness. Taken together, they have the satisfactory ring of completeness, but is this the entire view? I have no certitude that it is the only one. We know from numerous accounts with those with whom we have had contact that many have retained their earthly personalities and seek to live (and to communicate with us from beyond) in this way, so perhaps dissolution is not possible for all. Think of those whose lives were cut short by disasters or war, the very young who died before they had a chance to live, those with unresolved problems which have not yet seen their solution. Perhaps it is a prelude to reincarnation, where a further working out of human destiny may take place. This is not only logical but it is documented in spiritual traditions other than the Judeo-Christian ones. Notably, there was the belief that Jesus and John the Baptist continued the function of Elijah and Elisha, respectively, in another incarnation.
To think of destiny raises as many questions as it produces answers. In truth, we “see through a glass darkly”. For now, we await what for us will be the final answer. But we may rest assured, knowing that whatever may be, we are in the hands of a loving God.