Is Equality a Spiritual Principle?
What is the goal of spirituality? What is its end point?
Some would say it is a return to oneness, the transcending of all limitations associated with the individual self and absorption into the universalized sea of consciousness in which the individual becomes one with the all and time is replaced by eternity. For this no personal God is required. If he exists then he too is ultimately part of the cosmic ocean. In fact, the French writer Romain Rolland coined the term oceanic feeling to describe this experience which he seems to have become aware of through his study of the life of the 19th century Bengali mystic Ramakrishna who would frequently fall into spiritual raptures. The search for it is what lies behind many people’s attraction to mysticism, especially of the Hindu and Buddhist variety.
I am not much of an enthusiast for the theories of Sigmund Freud but what he apparently thought about the oceanic feeling is worth considering. He envisaged it as a reversion to a pre-ego state, something experienced by the infant before it becomes aware of self and other and sees itself and its mother as one. The fact that Ramakrishna was an ardent devotee of the divine Mother, conceived by him as the goddess Kali, lends some incidental support to this theory.
I would go a little further back in time than the materialistic Freud and suggest that the mystical sense of oneness in which the ego is blotted out is a reflection of the pre-incarnation state when the soul is bathed in the bliss of non-separation before being born into this dualistic world in which subject and object are radically divided. Thus, the oceanic feeling is a real thing but it may not be the indication of advanced spirituality it is sometimes taken to be, and especially so since it can sometimes be brought about by drugs or even certain forms of mental illness.
I see it as consciousness slipping outside the boundaries of the solid core of the rational self and becoming immersed in the universal substance from which individualised consciousness is drawn but that is like the self returning to the spiritual womb rather than growing up and becoming transfigured, in the process retaining full individuality but expanding that into divine being.
This means the world of the oceanic feeling is not where we should be headed but where we are coming from, and that means that attempts to recapture it are misguided. No doubt, it will be recapitulated on a higher turn of the spiral once the lessons of incarnation have been learned but the oceanic feeling is entirely passive whereas we are called by God to be co-creators with him which means being able to wield divine powers for the benefit of all creation. The soul submerged in the oceanic feeling remains inert. We are called to be eagles not fish.
What has all this to do with the title of this essay? If return to oneness really were the point of the spiritual path, then we could say that equality is a spiritual principle and one which we should be pursuing with vigour. The attempt to establish equality in the world would have the stamp of divine approval. But if this state of undivided oneness is a primordial state signifying the world prior to creation that may not be so.
The sea is the state of chaos or formlessness. In the beginning God divides the waters. Creation separates. It disrupts oneness and brings about differentiation. Now, you might say that, yes, it does do these things as it must if anything is to be, but we must return to the primordial state eventually.
The question then would be, in what way do we return? Do we do so in the same way we left, that’s to say, simply go back where we came from as if nothing had happened in the interim, or is there a point to creation? For that is what it amounts to. Does God have a purpose in creating individual souls or not? Surely, we must assume he does or creation is meaningless. The journey through creation changes the souls making that journey. They are not intended to return to the spiritual cradle but to gain something they could not be given without earning. They are to become spiritual adults, gods themselves. They return to the source but in full consciousness of themselves as divine beings, more individual not less.
Equality is not a spiritual principle. For anything to be, it must be something. One thing is never like another, even blades of grass are different, and the more a thing develops, the more it unfolds of its divine nature, the more individual it becomes. True equality is found in one place and one place only and that is in the realm of non-manifestation. Equality directly contradicts individuality which is a spiritual principle, one grounded in freedom, freedom being perhaps the fundamental spiritual quality and impossible in a purely material world. Inequality is only a problem when it is used as an excuse for the strong to dominate the weak but that is a corruption and no reason to try to enforce equality any more than the possibility of hate might lead one to suppress love.
In the Book of Revelation there is an intriguing passage which reads “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no more sea.” I’m not so foolhardy as to attempt to explain this most enigmatic of religious texts, but an interpretation of this cryptic passage has been suggested to me which has a bearing on the subject of this essay and so is worth including here. We are looking at the end of time when all things are completed and the earthly creation has run its course. Everything has been brought to fulfilment and the unrefined raw material of pure consciousness represented by the sea has been transformed into the glorious company of saints, the inhabitants of the New Jerusalem.
The sea is that from which life emerges. In its primordial form it is the one place there might be said to be equality, and egalitarianism is the desire to return to the pre-created state where there is no distinction. It is not the mark of proper spiritual understanding for that sees every individual soul as unique which, by definition, means different and therefore not equal.
The goal of establishing equality can either be regarded as well-meaning and motivated by good intentions and a desire for fairness or else as an attempt to impose conformity on a populace to make it more controllable and separate it from higher aspects of reality. In fact, the former group can be used by the latter to bring about a society in which all the mountain tops have been levelled and eventually nobody even believes in mountains. Could the drive towards equality turn out to be a means of enforcing spiritual slavery?
By No Means Equal By William Wildblood is available from Axis Mundi Books or from wherever books are sold.
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