by Robert E. Dreier
One of the most ardent advocates of Pantheism was the 17th Century Dutch Philosopher, (Benedict) Baruch Spinoza. A later-day avitar and former Rosicrucian philosopher, Fr. Ralph Lewis also made several references to Spinoza in many of his writings. The first citation noted was in Chapter V of his work, 'Mental Alchemy'. In that chapter Lewis discusses Mystical Pantheism. Also, in his work 'Conscious Interlude' in Chapter III -Inquiry into Knowledge, he delves into some of the epistemology (theory of knowledge), which leads a student to Mystical Pantheism. And in 'Sanctuary of Self', Chapter IV - Love and Desire, he discusses the love of God from a pantheistic point of view.
All of these references are based in essence on the thinking of Baruch Spinoza, and Fr. Lewis recognizes this unique philosopher in each one of his works as the source material.
Frater Lewis seemed to be enamored with Spinoza and his approach to mysticism and in particular his theories on Pantheism. The question then, might be, what was so special about Spinoza, what did Spinoza's philosophy offer to Fr. Lewis such that Lewis quotes him not only in Ethics, Cosmology, but also in Epistemology? Spinoza must have been 'on to something' that deserved so much space in Lewis' writings.
May we investigate this 17th century thinker and see if we can make this determination. Pantheism is so encompassing a subject that an investigation into the highlights of Spinoza's works might be beneficial to the understanding of this volatile concept. It is likely to breed a host of opinion along the way when the reader is exposed to the consequences. To say the least, Spinoza was a destroyer of the popular theistic concepts of his day, and he paid the price for freedom and expression of thought by excommunication from his religious body.
Now for a brief look at his biography: Baruch de Espinoza was born on November 24, 1632 of Portuguese parents who escaped to a liberal Holland where the House of Orange was receptive to families who had suffered the pain of religious discrimination. He and his family could once again practice the tenets of their Jewish faith in relative peace. The intellectual life of the Jewish community in Amsterdam according to young Baruch was cramped and ineffectual. He longed for a more eclectic environment than his ancient religion would allow or offer. When the Rabbis of his synagogue heard of his disillusionment with their protocols he was excommunicated from his religious group. He had sought the language and wisdom of secular science and philosophy and soon allied himself with a Dutch teacher Francis Van den Ende, who taught him science, the philosophy of Rene Descartes, and the literature of antiquity. His new teacher encouraged freedom of thought and expression in his new student. It is with this physician-teacher that Spinoza was also exposed to the philosophy of Giordano Bruno, who some say, influenced his own philosophy. The young Spinoza fell in love with Van den Ende's daughter, but he was pruned for a more affluent lover. He left Amsterdam to join a group of Collegian friends where he seems to have found a 'philosophic home'.
He took up the trade of a lens grinder whereby he supported himself with his mundane needs, and in his spare time he would devote to writing his Ethics, Improvement of the Understanding, and a host of other papers. His name became well known in intellectual circles to the extent that he was wooed by English philosophers of his day, The Royal Society. He also conducted an extensive correspondence with the intellectuals of his time and he was well respected by those who knew him. He was also offered teaching positions at universities, which he rejected since he did not want to compromise or be an intellectual slave to any political leader.
The shining glory of his work, many philosophers agree, is his Ethics. And Frater Ralph Lewis seems to be taken by his work since he adopts many of its propositions. Spinoza lived a very simple life claiming that all a person needed was housing, clothes and food. The rest was superfluous. He was a modest man and had grace of character. His only brush with politics was when the de Witt brothers, famous in their day, were murdered. He lived his writings. He went through transition in 1677 from a lung disease some say, which was cause by the glass grindings from his lens making.
May we look into Spinoza's ETHICS. To delve into the intricacies of the Ethics would drive the reader with only a cursory interest into this discipline into distraction. In the interest of brevity only the highlights will be addressed.
Why do people philosophize? Why so many theories? If there were just ONE answer, one solution, would not mankind after thousands of years of speculation have found THE answer to all of our questions and wouldn't this answer be accepted as true and acknowledged and understood by all people for all time?
Since the beginning of 'man' on earth, the questions of who, what, where, when, and why have plagued people's minds unto this day. If the human mind cannot find an answer suitable to all, then he will invent one, and the invented answer, regardless of its logic will suffice until something better arrives on the scene. Pantheism is one point of view regarding the essence of the Cosmic. In many modalities it is an antithesis to the 'beliefs' of some organized religions to the question of who or what is God.
In the Judeo-Christian world they might be found in the Old and New Testaments. The concepts and definitions of God may be different in other faiths. The Koran might be another example. Every culture seems to provide an answer which may provide to a great extent suitable answers to the questions posed above. To those who were not satisfied break-away groups were formed by those who shared a common point of view.
In philosophy many of the same questions are addressed but without 'beliefs', ritual, and dogma associated with some religious groups.
Spinoza, who in his youth was a very religious and studious Jew, could not in good conscience subscribe to the strict answers provided to him by others regardless of their 'qualifications' as knowledgeable, righteous, and observant members of his faith. He was driven by 'reason' to search for his own answers as we, Rosicrucians, seek our answers through our own realizations and the God of our hearts.
What some people may mean when the word or concept of God is brought into a conversation is in many ways on an idea of a supernatural being, spoken of as a Universal Spirit, who is righteous and a supremely powerful creator, who has a certain control over our destiny, and with whom we may enter into friendly relations, if our own character attitude and demeanor, words and actions are correct. God is usually thought of in male terms and is good, loving, just and a father to all. Now, this definition may not suit all of our readers, but it does in a general way give some notions to the 'idea' of an anthropomorphic God which may be in currency. If one accepts this definition, then there are certain implications such as Karma, good, evil, freedom of will which become ancillary.
Spinoza could not 'buy' into this modality of thought in his Pantheism.
It has been stated that much of the prevailing thought in common currency describing God, Cosmic, etc. - as the idea of a supernatural being, spoken of as a Universal Spirit, who is endowed with righteousness, love, forgiveness, saving grace, an all powerful creator, one who maintains control over the destiny of the human race, the world, and one with whom we may come into friendly relations etc.
Frater Ralph Lewis, a mystic, subscribed to a point of view, as he states in his book 'Mental Alchemy', that this dualistic view i.e. here is God and there is his creation or God AND Nature - dualism is not brought to its logical conclusion of monism (unity). Whereas in other opinions containing this dualistic view - Here is God and there is His creation - perfection and creation, why this anthropomorphic imperfection some philosophers ask? Imperfection in the 'creation of the world', in the universe we see murder, crime, man's inhumanity to man, hate, war, homelessness, starvation, discrimination in all of its manifestations, disease, death, etc. Is this the creation of an all-loving God? Since there was no logical answer, some say, the idea of will, free will, was transferred from the Creator, the Cosmic, and placed on the shoulders of the 'created'. Now the 'blame' can be arrested from the Cosmic and placed on the lives of the beneficiaries of creation. So man now has the free will, and it is up to man to produce the so-called 'good and proper life' not only for himself but for his neighbor as well. Somehow philosophers had to rationalize the age old question - 'Why do bad things happen to good people?' If the Cosmic possesses all those positive attributes and qualities, why does mankind suffer.
Mystic Pantheism with all of its plusses and minuses makes an attempt to provide a solution, an answer through logic and reason without the appellation to emotion, artifice, circular reasoning and the appeal to a 'higher authority'.
The Dutch philosopher, Spinoza said about the Absolute, "It is in all things yet it is in no one of them". Not God AND Nature but God/Nature Father, all things are not the totality of the universal consciousness because it has the potential of infinite manifestations. Consequently, universal consciousness is amorphous or, as Heraclitus said,"is always becoming". This of course, is technically called mystical pantheism, or namely God, the Cosmic, or Cosmic Mind permeating all. The orthodox theist and so-called Bible fundamentalist will, of course, reject this idea. He desires, as do many of those whom he calls pagans, to personalize his God, to make Him a being of form. He thinks that to embody the existence of God in all things, as does the Pantheist, is a kind of idolatry. But in assuming this he reveals his non-understanding of mystical Pantheism. The true Pantheist in this sense neither adores nor worships any object as a deity. Rather, he knows that the Cosmic principal is infinite in essence and extant, vibrational energy on infinite octaves, and therefore is in no one thing, or all things, could be it. But he holds that nothing that exists could be without the inherent order of God or Cosmic Mind. This Pantheistic Cosmic has no end in view (teleology),does not act out of need or desire, not wanting, but infinite and acts only out of necessity. There is no love, hate, good or evil, nor free will. Men are as free to act as their abilities will allow. These are perceptions of the human mind on lower octaves.
This principle is also demonstrated to some extent by the French philosopher Rene Descartes in his 'Discours de la Methode' wherein he outlines his epoch philosophy, which some say, was the seminal stage of modern philosophy, and brought to its logical conclusion through Spinoza's deductive reasoning (premise to conclusion) in his Ethics . Many students are familiar with Descartes' famous pronouncement "I think, therefore I am". Today many would brand Descartes a loner. He was wont to exclaim, "Bene vixit qui bene latuit!" Happy is he who lives in seclusion.
Descartes concludes that we must start from a singular solid foundation, get rid of imperfection, disregard tradition, the bugaboo of progress, and rebuild on the edifice of pure reason and clear thought, separating its components into its simplest form so that we may gradually reach the answer to the most complex question. This was to be the foundation for his analytical method, which Spinoza brought to its logical conclusion.
One cannot discuss Pantheism without the idea of something called 'God'. Dr. H. Spenser Lewis confronted this issue early in the early 1900's when he was in the process of forming the Order in the United State. He neatly skirted the issue by referring to the "God of your Heart'. This now includes anthropomorphists and pantheists. This invoked the 'wisdom of Solomon' and every one may pick an choose an all-powerful according to his own delight and no one is offended - a masterful stroke on Lewis' part.
The philosophic idea of Pantheism is as old as philosophy itself. Some of the ancient Greek philosophers were pantheists viz: Plato. In modern times and again in the course of human history the 1600's might be considered by some as the birth of the modern era with Spinoza as a paradigm.
Some people envision God or the idea of God in the form of a man - Anthropomorphic (Anthropos - Man, Morph - change in the form of) on a throne way up there in the sky or heaven, one who controls man's destiny for better or for worse, and many predicate adjectives are employed to describe this all-powerful being.
It might be argued that there are four main questions which have bothered man from the time he could think rationally:
- Where did I come from?
- Why am I here?
- And since I am here, how do I conduct myself?
- When I leave this life, where am I going?
Many Pantheists do not seem to address these issues since they envision the Cosmic as not being endowed with strictly 'human characteristics'. When ancient man was asked the question: "Who is God?", the most likely answer was: "Why another man." They understood the nature and power of men but had no real abstract idea of who or what this 'God' might be. He is a man up there!
To a blade of grass in my back yard,
I questioned it about our God,
Tell me, who is God, perforce?
Why another blade of grass, of course!
So one might understand that there are many frames of reference in the attempt to understand God, the idea of a God and its ramifications.
Parenthetically, the word God can be traced to the ancient Summarian word for one - achad (the ch pronouced as the 'ch' in the Scottish 'loch'). It found its way into Hebrew as echud and made its journey into the Germanic language as Gott the hard 'ch' and into English as - God.
If we may return to Descartes once again, he did not carry his ideas to their final conclusion because of a fear of retribution from the church fathers of his era. Witness the fact that philosophers and scientists gave their lives because of contradictions to church dogma. Spinoza did not suffer from this plight since he was not a Christian and was looked upon by the members of organized religion as an anathema to the human race since he did not accept Christ as Lord and Savior. He was also rejected by his own religious group, as was stated earlier, because he could not accept the dogma of his native religion. Therefore Spinoza was devoid of excess baggage.
May we conclude by a review statement:
Pantheism is considered by many to be an infinite substance which is equivalent to the Universe, a force of vibrational energy which is infinite, has no needs or wants, no aims or goals, no desires, but acts out of necessity and manifests on a series of infinite octaves. There is no love nor hate, good nor evil. It just IS From a mystic point of view it might be described as - Actuality.
Copyright © 1998 Robert E. Dreier