Morning. Morning thoughts out from behind the shadows of night.
How could it have taken so long to see this?
The Earth is a sacred book. An ancient idea—found almost everywhere in the ancient worlds, from Pharaonic Egypt to the alchemists and esoteric visionaries of Judaism, Christianity and Islam; to the Taoism of China and the hidden doctrines and practices in the mountains of Tibet and in the surpassingly great culture of India; to the powerful spiritual teachings of tribal cultures throughout the Americas, Africa, Asia: Nature in all its diversity as the signature of God and, indeed, the “language” of God. A language that has both an inner and an outer meaning, like scripture itself. Like scripture itself, it can be “read” in its outer, literal meaning and at the same time intuited in the many levels of its symbolic, transcendent meaning. Like scripture itself, like the language of God itself, nature, the Earth calls man to the heights and depths of uniquely human double perception, inner and outer simultaneously, drawing him outward to expression and engagement in the world at the same time that it calls him upward, inward, toward the silent inner Self or God within.
For a half century of my life I have been studying and teaching about sacred texts—Bible, Sutra, Upanishads, legend, symbol—at their origin encoded writings demanding to be understood or “heard” with both the outer and the inner sense of hearing; seen with both the eyes of flesh and the eyes of fire. To take such texts in their purely literal meaning can be a transforming experience, true, but only, I think, when one is burning in the inner fire of transcendent faith (which is very different from blind belief). Apart from that, such sacred writings call us to the search for an inner state of listening (Christ’s “ears to hear”), --listening, attention that is not only of the mind, but also of the heart. But even then not only of the mind and the heart, but also—and of paramount importance, an importance that has been tragically forgotten in our era—a new attention of and from within the physical body.
Seen in this light, we can say that science offers us a literal reading of the language of God. It shows us outer nature as nature appears to the outer man; the outer earth as the earth appears to the outward-directed mind, the mind that is dependent on the outward-directed five senses together with the automatisms of mental logic (mathematics) along with the ability to combine sense-based impressions in ever new and original (though not thoroughly true) ways.
And it is in this light of this uniquely human capacity of double perception that we can glimpse the possibility of both a deeper appreciation and a sharper criticism of the materialism of modern science—a sharp criticism and a deep appreciation of how modern science approaches reality, the universe, our body and our Earth.
To begin with, we need to make a distinction between science and what is called “scientism.” Science itself is, at its own level, a truly honorable method of investigating nature. It is fundamentally “empirical,” that is, based on actual observation and personal experience, observations and experience that can be tested and repeated by others under strictly defined external conditions. It brings us remarkable and essential knowledge, but it is knowledge gathered and synthesized by only one of the cognitive powers of the human psyche. Such knowledge may be great and powerful in its rightful domain. But it is not the same thing asunderstanding in the full sense of the word. And the crisis of our present relationship to the earth is evidence of the danger of knowledge without understanding.
What we may call “scientism,” appears when scientific knowledge imagines itself to be understanding, and when it presumes to have the authority to dispose of fundamental questions that require a quality of consciousness that simultaneously embraces the two great directions of perception. Such fundamental questions are sometimes called “unanswerable” : questions of meaning and purpose, the existence of God, good and evil—all of the great questions of the heart that are the main concerns of real philosophy and authentic religion. It may be true that they are unanswerable, but only by one part of the mind alone.
Understanding is a capacity of the whole of the human psyche. There are fundamental problems and questions of human life that cannot be resolved by organizing outward perception alone, but which simultaneously and inescapably require the active energy of inner perception. The question of our relationship to the earth is one of these fundamental questions.
We are going to see that the danger of scientism is the same as that of the dogmatically literal-minded reading of scripture. Just as the error of dogmatically taking sacred texts too literally is that the individual is not aware that he or she is hearing it with only a part of the whole human psyche, so also science becomes scientism not because it relies so much on the senses and mental logic, but because it does not go toward the world with the fullness of sensing— with the energy of the outward-directed mind blended, but not mixed, with the energy of the inward-directed mind with its unique power of non-egoistic intuition and feeling. The revolution in our understanding of the earth requires that we seek to inhabit the physical with more, not less, of our psyche.
If the earth is a living being, as it surely is, then, like everything that lives it either growing or dying. But perhaps, in ways that we do not understand, in order to grow, the earth needs our uniquely human conscious energy.
Many ancient writings speak of the earth as an angel. But perhaps the earth is the embryo of an angel, an angel on the way to being born.
© 2012 Jacob Needleman