Where Is Man Going
by Richard Hodges
Man’s duty, Adam’s task so to speak, is to reflect the Cosmos. “Cosmos”, from the Greek, means “the beautiful order of things.” Some speak of this as an aspiration to “know God”: but God is not to be known in His essential nature, but only by His effects—i.e. the Cosmos. The Cosmos cannot be known either. In its true nature it is equally a mystery. But it can be reflected. A partial reflection arises, which cannot be directly touched, like an image in a mirror. But by the law of reciprocity of radiations, such as the radiations of light which permit seeing, what is seen will be affected by being seen, and in being seen will reciprocally affect the seer. This applies even to rays reflected in a mirror.
Esoteric Islam says “God (Allah) cannot be contained in the whole cosmos, but fits easily in the heart of His faithful”. It also says “Who knows himself knows his Lord (Allah).” The only thing man can know of God, the “face” of God, God’s “effect” in Man, is the reflected Image of the Cosmos, what is reflected in Man’s heart and mind. There is little practical difference between saying this about God and saying that there is no such thing as God, there is only What Is, and each man’s perception of it. God in any case is certainly not a thing. Man’s proper concern ends at things. Or does it? Why do people often concern themselves with meta-things, even sometimes with “God”? There is a special part of the man-machine for this, and it has, perhaps, a purpose. What is the purpose?
Man is a machine. What is the machine called “Man” made for? Machines are “made” to do something (the words “machine” and “made” are of course from the same root). What is Man, the universal machine, “made” to do? To act in the world, for the good of the world. Note that we do not have to insist that the “maker” of Man can be identified: if, for example, a “God” unknowable-in-His-essence made man-the-machine there would be no way for Man to know this. It would be an hypothesis, a permissible one perhaps, but still subject to Laplace’s famous disclaimer “I see no need for such an hypothesis.” Perhaps we should stop before storming the unknowable, and simply observe that Man is a machine.
Prior to “doing”, necessary for effective action, man is a machine of seeing, of feeling, of reflecting the Cosmos and its contents. A machine that is an onion of infinite layers, infinite levels, machines built upon machines, machines all the way down. Rather than being an insult to Man’s dignity, this being-a-machine is Man’s real dignity.
How to deserve the God-like dignity of being a universal, infinite, machine? We have to face the fact that we are imperfect, incomplete, broken machines. In front of deep mysteries we wilt, the wheels fail to engage at the proper speed and grind to an unsatisfying stop. There is, there must be, an education of the mind and heart that makes the machine more supple, more capable of reflecting more of the vast unknown. Our search must be to find and enter upon this education.
We are fortunate, in our age, to have our modern science. Knowing what this science reveals about nature, about life, even about man, creates an Image of the origin, nature, and immensity of the Universe. This image partially satisfies the need inherent in man to reflect the Cosmos. It is good to study such science deeply. But it is not the highest thing. We are also fortunate to have the Traditions, all the religions and philosophies and myths and symbols developed and refined through long prior ages. The Traditions point to something higher—something that often takes “God” as the reference point. A much vaster Image unfolds, an image of imaginable and unimaginable levels. But God is not the only possible reference point—Buddhism for example takes Man’s inner state and its potential refinement as the reference point: Man’s condition of suffering, of slavery to all sorts of “lower” impulses, and a walkable path to freedom.
A deep study is required to benefit profoundly from these traditions. This is possible, though demanding, and gives great rewards; but again, it is not the only way. Since around the Renaissance, or just before, there has been in the West a search for a new Way in which the patina-encrusted “sacred” reference points of past eras are one-by-one carefully dethroned and replaced by direct participation. That strange new form of Man, “the individual,” faces his need for cosmic reflection alone, and though he may stand happily on the shoulders of giants, he must himself, with the help of other living individuals, shoulder the ultimate mystery.
Yet one cannot help feeling that modernity, and post-modernity, have not quite fully engaged the part of the man-machine that concerns itself with meta-things, with, dare one say, the levels leading up to “God”. The effort has been made of course, and astonishing and subtle ideas and images emerge. But one is aware that there is a gap that is not filled. Perhaps it cannot be filled. The traditional systems of the past we know mainly from books, because where a Tradition still has a living place in our world where it is practiced directly, the price of admission is often too high. All these books, as well as the pronouncements of those who claim to be initiates of living tradition, leave one with an impression that they have papered over the gap, hidden it under a palimpsest of assumptions and theories. In response to this discouraging fact, there is nowadays a movement toward the effort to at least face the gap without artificial supports.
Perhaps the purest approach is to be found in our music rather than our philosophy, including the philosophies and questions implied in all sorts of literature and poetry. Though music may be “written” on paper, its essence is not what is on the paper but in the cosmos that is revealed in the sound that is heard, and in the act of playing. It is very good, perhaps, that one cannot ever quite say what a given piece of music is “about.” We are talking about “good” music of course: popular music is most often so degenerate that there is little doubt what it is about: it is about “sex”, or “revolution”, or “group identity”, or “dissatisfaction”, or something of that level, sub-human in the sense of not rising to Man’s truest nature. Music is the most transient of things, and in a passing moment of a Bach fugue or a Chopin prelude or a Beethoven quartet one feels that something profound, something cosmic even, has taken place; but our naive efforts to define what took place always fall short. If we are honest we admit this and become silent. Only listening remains as a Way into the Moment.
Is this attitude, which sounds as “listening” when music is the medium, the key to a new, post-post-modern Way? Can we learn to really listen to the music of life?