Note: this is a continuation of the previous installment in what will be published here as the Dialectical Spiritualism series. It will also be published as a whole on Not Two when it is completed.
“O chestnut-tree, great-rooted blossomer,/ Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?/ O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,/ How can we know the dancer from the dance?”
—William Butler Yeats, “Amomg School Children”
- Pantheism presents the universe as a ubiquity of both matter and mind. There is no separating one from the other, because they are two distinct ways of looking at the same thing, like the noun “dancer” and the verb “dance.” Whereas language confounds us by suggesting that there are two things –a material dancer and an action she is performing– in truth there is just the body we identify as a dancer, and there is the interaction of that body with its surroundings that we recognize as dancing. One is static and self-contained, the other is dynamic and relational. We only know the static because we recognize the dynamic pattern; we only recognize the dynamic pattern because something of finite yet consistent spatial integrity is doing it. The thing and the action are one and the same. Yeats was right: we cannot tell the dancer from the dance. This is the essence of non-duality, and the revolutionary premise of pantheism is that matter and mind have exactly this non-dual relationship with each other.
2. Matter and mind, or “extension” and “thought” in the parlance of Spinoza, are the conjoined twin emanations of the omnipresent and omniscient substance we can call Divine Spirit. The eternal presence of this unitive substance and source of all temporal phenomena is consistent with how both philosophical theists and Spinoza use the term “God.” It is often stated that pantheism’s major point of departure from theism lies in its disavowal of any personal or anthropomorphic aspects of God, but in truth it is more basic than that: it is the assertion of a non-dual relationship between Spirit and matter, like that of a canvas to a painting. As such, in pantheism Spirit manifests not merely as a physical phenomenon among others, but as the one indivisible plain of physicality itself (consistent with our use of “physical universe”), and not merely as a mental phenomenon, but as the one indivisible field of mentality itself (henceforth called “Pure Mind”).
3. All individual bodies and minds participate in this single expression of Being that is their common source. The difference between these diverse manifestations is experiential, not ontological. This simply means they do not become something other than Spirit while appearing to have nominal distinction and an individual essence, just as a wave is not other than the ocean though it has measurable proportions and life span. As cognitive beings with a highly refined nervous system capable of unparalleled distinction-making concepts, humans are almost completely attuned to their unique experiential reality, to the expense of their ontological unity. Pantheism flips the script by showing that all material and mental distinctions derive their unique being from a universal whole of which they remain a part while existing (key point). Therefore, whereas secular naturalism leaves you a lonely and isolated person experiencing the universe, pantheism says you are the universe experiencing a person. And whereas dualistic theism tells us to “worship the Creator, not the creation,” pantheism replies, “How can you tell the Dancer from the dance?”