The Private Sea
13. OM or Omega?
There may often be good reasons for bad laws. The sexual act,
for example, is condoned only if the partners involved are a male
and a female who are married (to each other), and any deviation
from that pattern is proscribed as sinful and evil. It is difficult
to believe, however, that there is anything intrinsically wicked
in the performance of a mechanical act engaged in by consenting
partners. Young people especially are more and more inclined to
ask, "Why not?" And the reasons offered are not very
But the reasons offered may not be the real reasons.
Human society is founded pragmatically on the family unit, and
it has therefore been necessary to encourage matrimony and to
challenge at once any conduct or philosophy which appears to threaten
the stability of that institution. Thus the marriage relationship
is represented as the only legitimate source of sexual gratification,
and thus also the myth is promulgated that sex outside the marriage
bed is a personal sin against your body and soula violation
of heavenly law. But the law is man-made, not celestial, and the
sin in fact may be real enoughbut it is social, not personal.
It is a sin against the social structure and therefore a sin against
the common good. Such an idea of course is hard to convey, and
society (or life) has relied instead upon a necessary fiction.
There are many today who recognize the fiction and who seek to
destroy it; but they fail to recognize the reason for the fiction,
or the purpose it has served, or the problems involved in replacing
it. Their efforts therefore are met with a blind and instinctive
resistance, which they assess as mere prudishness. But it is more
than prudishness; it is life trying to protect itself, as best
it can, in the only way it knows how.
In the same sense, perhaps, there would appear to be an instinctive
reaction against the drug movement's monistic pronouncementsas
also its quietistic emphasis upon the pure experience of the here-now
present moment. Assuming that life (or society) has some dumb
understanding of its own welfare, or its own destiny, we might
inquire into the source of this reaction.
As for monism, an analogy could be made to the human body and
the cells which compose it. The body is a monistic whole in which
the cells all partake, although the cells can have no notion of
that fact: each is assigned its specialized function, thus enabling
the body to go about its business. What would happen, then, if
these dutiful cells or selves should somehow gain awareness of
the greater Self in which they participate? What would happen
if they ceased their functioning to con template the body? Most
likely, the body would not like that very much and would order
the cells to stop it at once. For the greater Self has its greater
business to attend to. If the hand indeed is divided into five
fingers, the better to do its work, this clearly implies, does
it not, that there is work to be done? And it cannot be done if
the fingers are curled inward in a self-admiring fist.
A similar interpretation is possible in the case of "presentness."
As we have seen, a here-now rejection of the intellect's perception
is a rejection in essence of the past and the futureespecially
the futureand this brings us again to another East-West dichotomy
which seems at least to be basic in nature. It is said that the
orthodox East looks backward to a primordial totality (and in
this sense perhaps it acknowledges the past, but not in the sense
of using the past to predict future action). The demythologized
East does not look backward; but neither does it look forward:
it is concerned alone with the here-now present moment. This is
another way of saying that it accepts the status quo. The West
on the other hand looks both backward and forwardbut especially
forward. It looks to the future. And it does so with the implication
that there is unfinished business to be conducted there; otherwise
its constant peering into the future is a matter simply of perceptual
deception, as charged.
Thus the myth of the Demiurge comes into conflict with the
myth of Ulysses.
The Ulysses myth is a Western myth. It does not accept the status
quo of the present moment but suggests instead that life is evolving.
This process in turn points toward a future purpose, and acceptance
of the present moment would defeat that purpose. Darwin of course
showed that life is constantly transforming itselfchanging
its forms, in the manner of Proteusbut he failed to show that
it is truly evolving in the sense of having a definite direction,
purpose, and goal. Others in the West, however, have said that
life is evolving in precisely this sense. Hegel has said it, Nietzsche
has said it, Bergson has said it, Altizer has said it, Maslow
has said itand Teilhard de Chardin has said it.
Hegel depicted the universe as an absolute Mind which is seeking
to fulfill itself and know itself. Nietzsche proclaimed the Overman
and the will to power; man is but a bridge, he said, and life
is that which must ever surpass itself. Bergson spoke of a vital
force which advances, creatively, toward a distant future end
which cannot be predicted because it is not predetermined. Altizer
asserted that God himself is evolving, from transcendence to immanence,
and he specifically rejected "the backward movement of Oriental
mysticism." He rejected the orthodox Eastern view of a "lost
paradise" we can only regain through "a reversal of
the cosmos." "Above all," said Altizer, "a
reborn and radical Christian faith must renounce every temptation
to return to an original or primordial sacred, or to follow a
backward path leading to an earlier and presumably purer form
of the Word." In the same context, Maslow has distinguished
between Being and Becoming; between a "high Nirvana"
and "low Nirvana"; between the "the Heaven ahead"
(of growth) and "the Heaven behind" (of regression).
Nowhere in recent times, however, has the concept of a goal-directed
cosmos been given richer expression than is found in the metaphysical
system of the scientist-priest Teilhard, who developed a profoundly
unorthodox theory of universal evolution.
Teilhard, a Jesuit, had been forbidden to publish that theory
during his lifetime; but his views have attracted widespread attention
since his death in 1955, and respect for his system has continued
to grow both inside and outside the Roman Catholic Church. For
many of the faithful, with the passage of time, Teilhard's ideas
have appeared to be more and more profound and less and less unorthodoxwhich
is hardly surprising, for they represent in fact an attempted
reconciliation of scientific knowledge and religious tradition.
It is difficult to say whether Teilhard was a mystical scientist
or a scientific mystic, but he is worth listening to in either
case. He speaks to the contemporary situation. And what is more,
he addresses himself directly to the issues raised by psychedelic
Teilhard proposed, to start, that evolution is not just willy-nilly
Darwinian transformism. It has a definite direction.
In the beginning, in the primordial chaos, the individual particles
of unorganized matter contained certain elementary "liberties,"
but matter by and large was subject to the laws of chance and
statistical determinism. After a time, however, the particles
began to organizefirst in simple forms, then in complex forms.
As eons passed, the forms became increasingly complex. And this
complexity resulted at last in a new phenomenon: it resulted in
consciousness. For consciousness is a product of complexity.
At first there was a primitive animal consciousness. Then, further
complexification produced the human brainand rational consciousness.
For the first time, evolution became aware of itself.
This, then, is evolution's direction: toward increasing complexity
and (as a result) increasing consciousness. Thus, by tracing the
pattern of psychical rather than physical development,
Teilhard laid the basis for a neo-anthropocentricity which restores
man to the center of things as the most complex and conscious
creation. Man is not just a speck lost in a remote corner of infinite
space. If the universe is a super-organism which is in the process
now of realizing itself, then man is the "head" of that
But evolution did not stop with the emergence of the human brain.
From that point on, complexification continued in the form of
social organization and human technology. Teilhard
saw no reason to distinguish these from "natural" (biological)
evolution; for there is nothing unnatural in nature, and the wireless
is simply an extension of the evolving human mind. The computer
and the space probe are similar extensions, Teilhard would have
insisted, had he lived to see their era, for what do they represent
if not an enlargement of our total awareness? By the same logic,
government at all levels is an expansion of overall consciousness,
through complexification, which allows us to deal with an ever
wider area of concern, and the United Nations may be the harbinger
of a global mind with global awareness.
As we saw in an earlier chapter, Teilhard held that this process
is directed from within by an indwelling Christ who took charge
of evolution by partially inserting himself into matter. Teilhard
stated further that the process will lead eventually to a final
state of super-organization and super-awareness he referred to
as the Omega point. At this stage, in a hyper-centration of cosmic
matter, mankind will reflect upon itself at a single pointand
will leave the earth behind to become pure spirit. Mankind will
abandon this world to rejoin the godheadnot by space ship,
but spiritually and inwardly.
Ideally, this should happen. But, said Teilhard, there is no predestined
guarantee that this will happen. The Omega point must be attained
by conscious effort. And already there are ominous portents. Even
now, "a whirlpool is beginning to appear ahead of us, in
the stream that carries us along."
In a magnificent construction, Teilhard divided the human race
into two camps, the pessimists and the optimists, and the latter
camp he divided into buddhists, pluralists, and monists.
Man must choose his evolutionary path, said Teilhard. And each
of these divisions represents a potential choice or possible path.
1. The first choice is pessimism or optimism. The question in
this case is fundamental, and it is simply Hamlet's question asked
on a grand scale. To Be or not to Be? That is the question the
whole universe must ask itself. Does it make any sense to exist,
or would it be better perhaps if there was no life at all? In
the early stages of evolution, the universe instinctively chooses
life over non-life and Being over non-Being; it instinctively
chooses to Be. But what happens when life becomes conscious and
therefore aware of itself? Is it not possible that Being will
reject its own existence, seeing no point to it all, and that
thinking men will go on strike against an evolutionary course
which seems to have no real meaning and no final purpose? Even
now the world has split into two opposing factions, and those
in one faction say that life is not worthwhile. Why bother, then,
to go any further? These are the pessimists; let us leave them
2. That leaves the optimists, and they must choose between the
optimism of withdrawal and the optimism of evolution. The optimists
of withdrawal are the buddhists, who wish to quit the world at
once; they acknowledge that Being as Being is good, but they deny
that the awareness of true Being can be found in the forward-looking
world of appearances. There is nowhere to go, they say. We are
already there. The idea of a goal ahead is delusional, they say,
and we need only to realize this; the solution, it follows, is
to "break away from the evolutionary determinism, break the
spell, withdraw." Let them cut the threads, then, and let
them retire to their future-denying nirvana.
3. That leaves the optimists of evolution: "the believers
in some ultimate value in the tangible evolution of things."
They are faithful to the future, "faithful to Earth."
But they too have a decision to make, and their choice is between
pluralism and monism. The pluralists are concerned primarily with
their personal freedom and individual uniqueness, "in opposition
to others." For the monists, "nothing exists or finally
matters except the Whole." Which shall it be? "This,"
said Teilhard, "is the ultimate choice, by way of which Mankind
must finally be divided, knowing its own mind." And Teilhard,
for his part, chose monism.
Only in union, said Teilhard, can man ever hope to achieve his
final destiny, and a separatist individualism is ultimately self-destructive:
"the element burns up all its future in a flying spark."
Let us plunge forward into monism, "even though something
in us perish." For it is written that he who loses his soul
shall save itand in true associations, as opposed to collective
heaps, the combination of separate elements does not eliminate
their differences. It exalts them. As in the specialized cells
of the body, "true union differentiates." This is true
even in the case of the anthill or beehivethe palace of honeywhere
specialization is based upon such biological functions as nutrition
and reproduction. How much truer it must be, then, in the case
of a spiritual association in which individual personalities
will conspire together to create "a common consciousness."
In such a union "each element achieves completeness, not
directly in a separate consummation, but by incorporation in a
higher pole of consciousness in which alone it can enter into
contact with all others." Tillich was expressing the same
thought when he denied that union with the Ground of Being means
a loss of self in a larger whole. "If the self participates
in the power of being-itself," said Tillich, "it receives
itself back. For the power of being acts through the power of
the individual selves. It does not swallow them as every limited
whole, every collectivism, and every conformism does."
Teilhard died before psychedelic quietism became an issue, but
his second set of alternativeswithdrawal or evolution goes
nevertheless to the heart of that issue. And Teilhard has not
left us to wonder which of the two alternatives he would recommend
as the proper and logical choice. This is implicit, he said, in
the fact that life up to now has followed "a precise line
of direction." There has been an unmistakable progression
toward an increase of consciousness and a greater awareness. What
we must do, therefore, is select that path which points ahead
in the same direction"the one which seems best able to
develop and preserve in us the highest degree of consciousness."
It might be argued that the meta-experience represents an advanced
level of consciousness, as opposed to a regression, and it is
possible even to interpret Eastern doctrine as evolutionary. There
is, for example, the concept of "the days and nights of Brahma,"
contained in the Hindu holy book, the Bhagavad-Gita. This
suggests the image mentioned earlier of a games-playing God who
acts out the cosmic drama for his own amusement, pretending to
be Many when actually he is One. The drama continues for a thousand
agesuntil the Self-deception is at last revealed, and the One
once more is aware of his Oneness. Whereupon the whole cycle is
repeated, forever and ever. There is some support for this idea
in the modern astrophysical theory of an "oscillating"
universe, which holds that all of the galaxies comprising the
universe were once contained in a primordial atom of incredible
density. At some point in the past this atom exploded, sending
all the raw material of the universe flying out into spacethe
galaxies evolving with the passage of time. There is considerable
evidence that this so-called expansion of the universe is still
going onin fact there seems little doubt of itbut recent
observations indicate that the outward flight of the galaxies
will one day slow to a stop, and the universe will then contract
again into a new primordial atom. Indeed, the process may have
occurred countless times already since the dawn of creation. Or
so we are told. The theory is based, I believe, on the estimated
force of the original impetus and the estimated amount of stellar
No doubt science has weighed and measured the universe very accurately
and thus can predict what it will do some billions of years from
now. But it might be easier to accept the idea of oscillation
as final if science were just a trifle more accurate in predicting
tomorrow's weather in Omaha. Will it rain there or won't it? However
that may be, we have already seen the danger of marrying physics
to metaphysics (in connection with free will), and it is doubtful
in any case that Eastern evolution is anything like Western evolution.
The Eastern future is not a creative future, in the Western sense,
but rather an eternal repetition of the past. This does not mean
the East is wrong and the West is right, but it does mean there
is an essential difference in their assertions on this point.
The Western future is clearly denied both by Eastern metaphysics
and by psychedelic quietism.
Shall we rest on our oars? Are we already there?
Addressing himself to the buddhists among us, Teilhard agreed
that the concept of an ultimate withdrawal from the phenomenal
rat race "fits in very well with the final demands
of a world of evolutionary structure." But he made one proviso:
"that the world in question shall have reached a stage of
development so advanced that its 'soul' can be detached without
losing any of its completeness, as something wholly formed."
And to this he added:
But have we any reason to suppose that human consciousness today
has achieved so high a degree of richness and perfection that
it can derive nothing more from the sap of the earth? Again we
may turn to history for an answer. Let us suppose, for example,
that the strivings and the progress of civilization had come to
an end at the time of Buddha, or in the first centuries of the
Christian era. Can we believe that nothing essential, of vision
and action and love, would have been lost to the Spirit of Earth?
Clearly we cannot. And this simple observation alone suffices
to guide our decision. So long as a fruit continues to grow and
ripen we refrain from picking it. In the same way, so long as
the world around us continues, even in suffering and disorder,
to yield a harvest of problems, ideas and new forces, it is a
sign that we must continue to press forward in the conquest of
matter. Any immediate withdrawal . . . would certainly be premature.
He also said, elsewhere: "God creates and shapes us through
the process of evolution.... God awaits us when the evolutionary
process is complete; to rise above the world, therefore, does
not mean to despise or reject it, but to pass through it and sublime
Teilhard may or may not have demonstrated that evolution has a
goal or a purpose. It is possible, however, that he did show evolution
to have at least a direction, and that alone would be no small
gift in this age of uncertainty. Given a sense of direction, if
nothing else, there are many perhaps who would be willing, in
an act of faith, to accept the idea of an unguessed future purpose.
And after all, at this stage in our development, who has the wisdom
to deny that possibility? Is anyone so all-knowing, when all of
us together would seem to know so little?
If we are estranged from one level of reality and locked in a
world of action, it may be that we are estranged for a reasonand
a reason, moreover, which we cannot yet foresee. If there is a
Whole which is seeking to know itself, it may be that the Whole
aspires to a more perfect knowledge of its parts as well as its
Onenessthat the Whole demands of us that we first conquer the
earth, moon, and stars before we turn inward. If there is a deeper
level of reality, revealed by psychedelics, there could well be
another level still deeper than that. Anything and everything
is possible, and nothing as yet is impossible. This is not to
say that the psychedelic insight is not true; we are merely suggesting
that it may not be the whole truth. If a little learning is a
dangerous thing, there is danger indeed in any total commitment
to a partial understanding, and some of the drug cultists might
at least be a little less cavalier in their decision to reverse
the apparent direction of the universal tides. Perhaps some knowledge
comes to us too soon, before we know how to use it or what to
make of it, as was certainly true with the atom. But it is too
late for regrets, in the case of the atom or the case now at hand.
A decision of some sort must obviously be made, and it is essentially
a very simple decisionthough by no means an easy one.
Backward to OM? Or forward to Omega?
Shall we accept the myth of the Demiurge, which suggests that
our salvation lies in the simple acceptance of the here-now present
momentconcealed by the intellect? Or shall we accept the myth
of Ulysses, which suggests that life is a process of evolutionary
growth toward some distant future goal we cannot as yet perceive?
These are the central questions posed at this time by the mystical,
peak, and LSD experiences.
Teilhard felt that mankind as a whole has reached its decision
and has chosen its path. If that choice in fact has been made,
as he supposed, then it is much easier to understand society's
angry and dogmatic reaction to those uncompromising individuals
who insist that the meta-experience points toward a total withdrawal
and nowhere else.
When Ulysses found his men feeding upon the flowery food, in the
land of the lotus eaters, he did not pause for thought. He asked
them no questions, and he offered them no arguments. He laid hold
of the men, and he led them, weeping and sore against their will,
back to the swift ships.
He knew where he was going. He was going to Ithaca.
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