The Three Views of Existence (Edited)

[This is an old post that was originally in three installments. I’ve edited them together and am reposting them. I’m surprised at how much of what I wrote then I still stand by.]

Five years ago, down with the flu and having to spend all day in bed, I found myself thinking about the three fundamental views of existence, which are the creator god view, the scientific/materialist view, and the pantheistic, or everything-is-god, view.

To elaborate a little, the creator god, or monotheistic, view is what most people in this culture think of when they hear the word “religion.” It’s the belief in a god who exists apart from his creation. There are many different schools of thought within the fundamental view, ranging from followers of intellectuals like Augustine to populist evangelicals. The scientific/materialist view maintains that there is no spiritual realm whatsoever. There is only the material plane, and consciousness arises out of the workings of chemistry and physics. These first two views are currently duking it out. They barely recognize the existence of the third view, the pantheistic view, which says that the entire universe is god. (I once thought pantheism meant “nature religion,” that the “pan” referred to the Greek god Pan—or something. But “pan” means “all,” as in “Pan American.” So Pan-theism is “everything is god.”) We are god. The rocks are god. The trees are god. It says that the material realm arises from the spiritual, that everything is mind. It includes schools of thought and tribes that range from serious, committed Buddhists to frivolous New Agers. (While Jesus is seen as representing the creator god view, I believe he was actually teaching the pantheist view. But more on that later.)

Each of these views, even if we’re not all that serious about them, affect how we live and respond to events. If you believe in the scientific/materialist view, which is probably the most popular and widespread view, there is no such thing as “wisdom.” There is only knowledge. A people that sees knowledge as the be-all and end-all of life also sees material and scientific progress as essential to our growth as a species. We are currently entering an era when we are hitting the limits to material progress—the end of growth. Whenever this idea is brought up, the materialists become either angry or despairing. There will be no reason to live! But it’s not like that. We will never truly start living until we get past our present-day obsession with money, possessions, and scientific progress. We’re committed to an enormous misunderstanding of what the material plane is. I’ll get to that in a bit.

Wherever you are, you are one with the clouds and one with the sun and the stars that you see. You are still one with everything. That is more true than I can say, and more true that you can hear.

Shunryu Suzuki

Of the three fundamental views of existence—creator god, scientific/materialist, and pantheist—I subscribe to the third. (I should add that “pantheism” is short hand for me. It’s a Western term, that is, from the world of Western philosophical speculation, and has a lot of attached baggage that is not real.) I don’t see myself as having sought out this view. At one point in my life I was reading a lot of Taoism and Buddhism in order stay afloat. I was doing a lot meditation, too, but, again, simply to survive an extraordinarily rough time. (I write about this in my work-in-progress Street Song.) In the midst of my reading I kept coming across the idea that everything is god, or mind. For a long time I assumed that this was just a metaphor. Eventually I saw that the people advocating this idea really meant it. It’s difficult to see the material plane as “merely” mind. If you cut me, I will bleed. If I kick a boulder with all my might, it will hurt like hell. The turning point for me came when someone I was reading, someone whose opinion I trusted and valued, stated that the material plane is an illusion, albeit a very thick one. His statement tied together a bunch of others I had floating around in my head. Suddenly I understood how the material plane, while having laws, is one with the spiritual background from which it arises.

I don’t read a lot of science. I try, but I can’t hack the attitude that a lot of scientists adopt. They want to be the go-to guys, the great explainers. But science can never explain existence. It can only probe one layer of it—the material plane. I’ve read enough science to know that as scientists delve deeper into matter, they find that, essentially, it disappears. It’s a big mystery! But scientists insist that there is a rational order to reality, that through experimentation and research we can eventually understand everything—soberly. But that’s not what the sages say, and I take their word—the word of the real ones—over that of the scientists. The sages say that when you take the journey that leads to an understanding of what existence really is, it astonishes you. It blows your mind. If what you saw didn’t blow your mind, then you didn’t see fundamental reality. And fundamental reality is ineffable, that is, it cannot be put into words. You have to see it for yourself. (There is more on this in The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, in the chapter called “Consciousness Explained”.) I’m not asserting here that I’ve had this vision. I haven’t. Just bits and pieces. So, in a sense, this is a statement of faith. But my journey isn’t over.

Our present-day understanding of religion is poor. When people discuss religion they are usually arguing about some doctrine they read in a book somewhere. Most of today’s religious institutions and organizations are led by people who’ve had no direct experience of the spiritual, but have ideas about what it. You can’t get religion from a book or from speculative thought.

In real religion a person sets out on a path that takes him, or her, to the very edge of what can be understood with the thinking mind. At the point he can go no farther, he has to let go of his ego and take a leap into the unknown where he has a vision of the oneness of all existence (and nonexistence). To most people this sounds like some kind of Eastern religious trip. But I contend that Jesus took the same journey. If you read the Gospel of Thomas, one of the so-called Gnostic Gospels, it’s easy to recognize. One of the good things about the Gospel of Thomas is that it’s all sayings and aphorisms. There isn’t any mythology attached. It’s simply religious instruction. And religious instruction is mostly about how to safely manage the spiritual journey, which is incredibly dangerous.

Maybe it’s pointless to try to talk about this. To most ears, the journey I’m referring to sounds mythical rather than real. But that’s because of the time we live in, which is mundane and materialistic. In any case, for the moment, the door to the journey is closed. It wasn’t so long ago, however, that the door was open, and thousands, if not millions, went in pursuit. Even then, it was difficult to get people to understand. For many years, I was one of those who refused to hear of it. I contend that real religion is simply the search for the truth about existence, about reality. There is only one true religion, and it doesn’t have a name. It is simply the laws of existence—an existence that goes beyond physical reality. Jesus, Buddha, Lao Tse, and others are all examples of individuals who  made that journey, and then came back to tell the rest of us how to go there. In each case, only a handful of the original hearers had any real understanding of what Buddha, Jesus, or Lao Tse were talking about. But they were impressed by the power of the speakers, who had been completely changed by the experience. That’s where the big churches came from—from the mass of people who didn’t really understand what they were hearing, as well as from those who heard it second and third hand. In the first group I would include most of Jesus’ disciples; in the second, people like Paul, Augustine, Martin Luther, and so on. (I’m being critical of Christianity here, but I see Buddhism as having identical problems. One of the problems is to think that there is a “Buddhism” or a “Christianity.”)

It’s not easy to get people to understand what’s true. It’s easier to give them a jealous god who sits on his throne, sees all, and crushes his enemies. They can understand that much more easily than the idea that everything is god, that everything is mind. We all have, at the very least, an unconscious awareness of the spiritual roots of existence. That’s why the churches became so powerful. But as the churches—Buddhist included—have grown ever more distant from the source, their doctrines have become more at odds with observable reality. A few centuries ago it got to be too much for the well-educated, and they began to question what they knew as religion, that is, the creator god religion they’d inherited from Paul, Augustine, Martin Luther et al. Eventually they created science and philosophical materialism as a replacement. Today those two sides are duking it out, making headlines, trying to win converts. I can’t take either one of them seriously. There is that third way, which is quieter and more intelligent than either the creator god or philosophical materialism. It has the added advantage of being true. But, as I say, the door to understanding it directly is not open right now. That will change, however. Sometimes I feel that that’s all I live for—for that door to open again. When it does open, everything changes for everybody everywhere.



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17 Responses to “The Three Views of Existence (Edited)”

  1. Kathy Says:

    A lovely read, thank you. Much to ponder, thanks for another step in the direction. Kinda needed this reminder today…

    I hope some of this writing is in your new book…

    I am curious though…why do you say the door is closed?

    • markbittner Says:

      Yes. Much of this kind of writing will be in my book. Especially toward the end. Why is the door closed? Difficult to describe simply. That’s in the book, too. The door does open and close. The door has been closed. Sometimes I think it’s opening now. We need it to open.

  2. maggiemay20 Says:

    I too didn’t understand the closed door. Is it closed to you or all of us?
    I can’t wait to read your book. It’s a long time coming.

    • markbittner Says:

      A bit clumsy of me to say something so extraordinary and not explain it, no? I go into this at some length in Street Song, except that I refer to it as a wave rather than a door. It is my understanding, as well as my experience, that there are spiritual “tides,” (energy or life force) which have a long arc. We’ve been going through a low tide for quite some time. When it changes, then things can get done in a way they can’t right now. There will be a much lengthier exposition in the book.

  3. Hugh Jazole Says:

    “As soon as egoism becomes the ruler of a people, the bands of order are loosened and in the pursuit of their own happiness men fall from heaven into a real hell.”

    Adolf Hitler

    • markbittner Says:

      I assume that the person who sent this to me, Hugh, is trying to make some kind of Libertarian point. Implicit in the sending is, if Hitler said it, it must be evil. But people say all kinds of things, some of which they mean, some of which they don’t. Hitler lived diametrically opposed to the sentiments expressed in this statement. His reign was entirely egoistic. Egoism is evil. Hitler was in his actions staunchly egoistic. What he said doesn’t matter. What he did, does

    • Kathy Says:

      And Hitler, in fact DID promote in action that quote, knowing, I suppose, the outcome. Which speaks to true evil.

    • markbittner Says:

      I’m not sure what you’re saying here, Kathy.

    • Kathy Says:

      So Hitler tells us in that quote what happens when egoism rules. Then he promoted a political system/brainwashing approach on a mass scale that did exactly what he said it would do. He had to know that potential for demise, given the quote…and he proceeded to implement with alacrity…his system and rhetoric led directly to the demise and shame (hell) for his people…THAT is the nature of evil…regardless of his other rhetoric (which was the brainwashing part)…does that make any more sense?

      It is little like a parent internally and secretly not wanting to have children, but having them, and then saying “I love you and you were wanted” (the brainwashing rhetoric) and then doing everything in their power to sabotage a child’s development by feeding them bad information or giving bad direction or failing to fulfill basic needs ….not quite the same I know but I am trying to give the best analogy I can.

      So I see a four part dynamic here:

      1. I know this approach will lead to your demise (the quote)
      2. I think you are wonderful and if you do what I say, things will be wonderful (the rhetoric/brainwashing)
      3. You do/believe what is said
      4. It leads to your demise.

      The simplest mythology that demonstrates this premise (which took me a LONG time to understand) is the well-known story about the turtle trusting the snake to carry him across the river after the snake promising not to eat the turtle. The snake of course stops in the middle of the river and starts to eat the turtle who says “you promised not to eat me” and the snake says: ” Well what did you expect? I am a snake. It is simply my nature”. (Not very nice to snakes, I know :))

      Hope this helps clarify, I am willing to continue the dialogue! Apologies if I was not clear…

  4. Kathy Says:

    Forgot to add: the (Greek?) mythology about parents (gods) eating their children…same premise more or less but less developed IMHO. I know this all sounds dire and awful, but while I believe in the nature and power of good, that requires that I study its opposite…it is not where I live most of the time but I do explore these ideas…

    • markbittner Says:

      I understand what you’re saying. But your first reply was confusing. I misunderstood what you were getting at.

    • Kathy Says:

      Good, glad I could be more clear. I don’t really live in or completely believe the dialectic of duality and opposites, because I believe it to be a bit too simplistic. I prefer more global approaches if that makes sense. But every so often the duality informs the larger gestalt…

  5. Hugh Jazole Says:

    So, you’re saying that Nazi Germany was a Libertarian paradise? Are you equating Libertarianism with Nazism? Sorry, I’m a bit confused.

    • markbittner Says:

      No. I am confused as to the point of your original comment. Hitler is voicing things that could be attributed to Buddha or Christ, but he was far from either. I was wondering if you were suggesting that being anti-egoist was something that a man like Hitler could advocate as well. A Libertarian might say that a non-egoistic way of living ended up fascistic or SOMETHING. My point is that I didn’t get your point.

    • Kathy Says:

      Lol, see Ayn Rand e.g. (possibly distorted of course).

  6. Hugh Jazole Says:

    The point is that the cornerstone of both Nazi Germany, and the Soviet Union, as well as any other Dictatorial/Communist (Cuba), is the subversion of the individual for the greater good. I assume you don’t deny this? As far the the egoism of their leaders go, that may be true, but they certainly demanded subservience from their population. A lot of the Jews rounded up by the Nazi’s were what we now refer to as “Libertarians.” Kathy, since you mention Ayn Rand.

    “It is obvious what the fraudulent issue of fascism versus communism accomplishes: it sets up, as opposites, two variants of the same political system; it eliminates the possibility of considering capitalism; it switches the choice of “Freedom or dictatorship?” into “Which kind of dictatorship?”—thus establishing dictatorship as an inevitable fact and offering only a choice of rulers. The choice—according to the proponents of that fraud—is: a dictatorship of the rich (fascism) or a dictatorship of the poor (communism).”

    Ayn Rand

    • markbittner Says:

      I hate it these days when I have to explain myself beyond an initial post. Why? Because I’m working on a book which takes up most of my brain. For now all I want to say is that the issue of the individual versus the collective is poorly thought out in the West. In fact, I would say that the West is the problem. Both the Nazis and the Marxists are the result of speculative Western thinking.

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