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And God is this dance
> To divulge the mystery is called, in the speech of the ancient Greeks as in that of some primitive peoples, to 'dance it out.'
In the night of Brahma, Nature is inert, and cannot dance till Siva wills it: He rises from His rapture, and dancing sends through inert matter pulsing waves of awakening sound, and lo! matter also dances appearing as a glory round about Him. Dancing, He sustains its manifold phenomena. In the fulness of time, still dancing, he destroys all forms and names by fire and gives new rest.
This symbolism of Shiva has it that the cosmos is thus danced into being, but we might well consider the opposite—that God is danced into being, that God is this dance. Here we may take as our foundation a monism in the style of Spinoza, in which thought and extension are taken as attributes of a single substance; it is that this substance can be seen as if two sides of a single coin. We may see it as thought, in which case we call it God, or we may see it as extension, in which case we call it Nature.
Here we must differ from Spinoza, however, in refusing to accept the parallelism he establishes between thought and extension. While his monism promises a significant step forward against the dualism of Descartes, at the last we find he collapses into the same scheme: that the divine intellect guarantees the adequacy of our ideas by maintaining a parallelism between thought and extension. This is explained by the fact that, according to Spinoza, our minds participate in the infinite intellect of the divine—which is really no explanation at all, instead is more a sleight of hand which distracts from this broken line in his sketch.
Instead of presupposing this parallelism, let us instead begin with extension alone; that is, with Nature. We may conceive of this approach as that of a materialist—to the extent that we define materialism in line with its root, through matter to mater: mother. On this view, in other words, we will consider extension as the womb of thought; that Nature is the womb of God. Of course, we must acknowledge also that in some sense God precedes the actualisation of this potential. Nature itself is begotten by God, whereby God is begotten by Nature—and here is the particular importance of mankind, for it is only through us that Nature arrives at an adequate idea of God.
We may thus see human history as this ascent to an adequate conception of God, from the point at which we first broke from our unreflective animality; it was here that we began the climb. Of course, we may well note that this precise point is also that of the fall—what does this mean? For it was only by virtue of the fall that we came to the necessity of an adequate conception of God, where prior we existed in a simple state of animality; it is that the birds sing a constant dhikr, whereas man was by the fall made forgetful. This possibility latent within man, moreover, can be seen as the seed of the fall; it was this potential that drew Iblis’ ire. Likewise we may read this as the trust, and know that it was to man that this alone was given; that our acceptance of this is further seen as somehow foolhardy.
The specific nature of man is that it was the highest of creatures, and then that we fell stooped; but it is our peculiar importance that we are capable of return. Man is the means of God’s self-realisation, hence his pride of place in the cosmos; hence the envy inspired in Iblis.
There are various verses that note how whatsoever is in the heavens or on the earth prostrates to its Lord, and this is seen most plainly in the ceaseless praise of birdsong; yet it is to man for a higher form of worship—higher perhaps for the fact that here there is a real risk, that the return is not guaranteed or ordained but must be pursued by the exercise of human will. This is further a higher form in that through the development of thought in man, the cosmos is at last capable of an adequate conception of the divine: “I was a hidden treasure and I loved to be known, therefore I created the creation that I might be known.”
We further find that our achieving this adequate idea of the divine provides the basis for all sound thought; it is that having reached this point we must begin again with this as the basis of our understanding. The end is at once our point of departure, that only by such a genetic account can we hope to understand the complexity with which we are presently faced. Here I have thus far left aside the precise nature of this adequate conception, and this is partly for its being a name beyond words; it is simple enough to say—that, for instance, “He, God, is One; God, the Eternally Sufficient unto Himself”—and yet the possibility of understanding is not found within any of these words but the movement of their gesture beyond.
The anamnesis of Plato can perhaps be understood fairly from this perspective, for it is indeed a remembrance in which this adequate idea is constituted; it is a remembrance in the sense that we overcome our forgetfulness in returning to the whole of which are ever only a part. This is a state in which we were prior to our existence, not in another realm but undifferentiated as of Nature; and indeed, it is a state in which we are a while even as infants—for as thought follows from extension in Nature, so too does it in man. This is the subject of Tennyson’s verse, In Memoriam:
The baby new to earth and sky, What time his tender palm is prest Against the circle of the breast Has never thought that this is I; But as he grows he gathers much And learns the use of “I” and “me,” And finds “I am not what I see, And other than the things I touch.” So rounds he to a separate mind From whence pure memory may begin As through the frame that binds him in His isolation grows defined.
Of course, this achievement of thought is at once the fall; it is this which is understood by the branching of the tree in Eden. This symbol reflects the basic metaphysical division whereby we are severed from Nature, whereby we are forgetful of God; and yet it is only in this way that we we may remember, and in this remembrance is something higher than that which came prior.
The ascent to an adequate idea of God can be seen to proceed through the early animism in which the ego is everywhere projected into the world; into the more advanced yet equally illusory variants of Platonism and idealism which operate on the same principle. This notion of the cosmos as constituted by ideas—that is, as populated by the reflected images of our ego comprising objectivity and will—everywhere strives for its own dissolution, and we find that this possibility is achieved throughout the world in the form of what has come to be seen under the label of perennialism.
The relation between this singular conception—this adequate idea which is, in fact, no idea at all but rather the self-consciousness of their limit and basis—yes, the relation between this singular conception and the varying forms found throughout the world can be best understood in the sense of half-siblings. The eternal aspect, the father, is everywhere the same; it is that the temporal and material womb in which this is brought to fruition varies, and that thus they are all born of a single father but to several separate mothers. This is the ‘transcendental unity of religions’—and it represents the nature of man’s thought as a flying fish, that we intermittently leap clear out from the sea of simple cognition into this realm of the impossible.
We become human only when we crawl out onto land; it is with this step that God is born. This is the return at the apogee of our distance. Man need no longer be a flying fish but may develop legs with which he can dance God into being. This is the present state of affairs, where we are now equipped with this possibility.
Of course, this is only so in a historical sense; in the case of each individual we all begin submerged as fish yet to fly. The adequate idea of God is at once graspable as such, hence that we may walk on land, but also ever remains impossible; it is a notion which contains the emptiness of all else, ultimately even of itself. This concept is a finger pointing at the moon, and the realisation of this knowledge in truth is not rational but ever only aided by such as symbolism. We are aided by the scaffolding of tradition but must each ourselves build this temple; or rather, must realise our status as tabernacle.
As so often in the matter of dancing out this mystery, I now find myself tiring. This is a task yet incomplete, for how can I speak of such places as I have not gone myself? Lately I have been walking the way, unsteady at first but with ever surer feet, have put aside words and sought this alone in silence; so many have spoken of this place—and yet, at least from where I stand now, still it seems impossible. Here Kazantzakis comes to mind, and I take comfort in his words:
The nonexistent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired, whatever we have not irrigated with our blood to such a degree that it becomes strong enough to stride across the somber threshold of nonexistence.
“If I am successfully understood, my listener will have acquired the benefit that his life will have been made significantly more difficult for him than ever before, and therefore I will not urge anyone to accept this invitation.”