Human Pantheism

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Template:WilliamBGreene This condensed version of William Batchelder Greene's Transcendentalism, was originally published in William Henry Channing's The Spirit of the Age.

The Spirit of the Age, I, 25 (December 22, 1849), 394.

HUMAN PANTHEISM

BY WM. B. GREENE

"What we commonly call man (says Mr. Emerson) the eating, drinking, planting, counting man, does not as we know him represent himself, but misrepresents himself. Him we do not respect; but the soul, whose organ he is, would he let it appear through his action, would make our knees bend." The man, therefore, who has attained to right knowledge, is aware that there is no such thing as an individual soul. There is but one soul, which is the "Over Soul," and this one soul is the animating principle of all bodies. When I am thoughtless, and immersed in things which are seen, I mistake the person who is now writing this notice, for myself; but when I am wise, this illusion vanishes like the mists of the morning, and then I know that what I thought to be myself, was only one of my manifestations, only a mode of my existence. It is I who bark in the dog, grow in the tree, and murmur in the passing brook. Think not, my brother, that thou art diverse and alien from myself; it is only while we dwell in the outward appearance that we are two; when we consider the depths of our being, we are found to be the same, for the same self, the same vital principle, animates us both. (We speak as a Transcendentalist.) I create the universe, and thou, also, my brother, createst the same; for we create not two universes but one, for we two have but one soul, there is but one creative energy, which is above, and under, and through all.

This is no new theory: this doctrine was well known in the East, before history began; no man can tell when it arose, for it is as old as thought itself. "Rich, (say the Vedas) is that universal self, whom thou worshipest as the soul." We should strive, therefore, to disentangle ourselves from the world of matter, from the bonds of time and space, that we may take our stand at once in the 'Over-soul,' which we are, did we but know it. We are the Over-soul, and we come in our own native home, when we attain to our true point of view, where the whole universe is seen to be one body. Then do we know of a truth that it is we who think, love, laugh, bark, growl, run, crawl, rain, snow, &c. &c. Mr. Emerson has given a beautiful expression to this thought:

"There is no great and no small
To the soul that maketh all:
And where it cometh, all things are;
And it cometh every where.

"There is one mind," says Mr. Emerson, in his Essay on History, "common to all individual men. Every man is an inlet to the same, and to all of the same. He that is once admitted to the right of reason, is made a freeman of the whole estate. What Plato has thought, he may think; what a saint has felt, he may feel; what at any time has befallen any man, he can understand. Who hath access to this Universal Mind, is a party to all that bath or can be done, for this is the only and sovereign agent."

It may easily be seen that this amounts to an identification of man with God; yet this system is by no means Pantheistic; perhaps, indeed, we may be permitted to coin a new term, and call it Human Pantheism. Pantheism sinks man in God—makes him to be a phenomenon of the Divine existence—but this system, so far from being an absorption of humanity in God, is an absorption of God into the human soul. What is the invisible world of the Orientals? This invisible world, is identical with the world of potential existences of Aristotle; it is identical with the abyss of Jacob Behman and John Pordage. These three expressions, the invisible world, the potential world, and the abyss, (which last term we prefer, as being more expressive,) are names indicating one identical thing in the universe of reality—we do not say in the universe of actuality.

What then is meant by the term, the abyss? Suppose, in thought, this visible universe to be broken. Let all the qualities by which we distinguish the differences subsisting among the different bodies of nature, cease to manifests themselves. Let all properties, all activities in nature, re-enter into themselves. Let all that by which each manifests its own proper existence, re-enter the virtual state, so that all properties, all activities, exist no longer in act, but only in the power of acting. Like a circle that contracts more and more till it vanishes in its own centre; let all extensions contract into—into what, 0 ye Powers! Let all qualities derived from extension, or which are manifested to us through extension, enter again into themselves. Let, in short, all properties of things be only in potentiality of manifestation. The reader must endeavor to effect these operations in thought.

But perhaps it will be well to define some of our terms. What is essence? What is existence? What is the difference in signification between the words essence and existence? Essence is pure being, without efflux or manifestation. Existence involves out-going or manifestation. The soul of man, and every other substance, according to the foundation of its being, according to its centre or root, is; but according to its out-goings, manifestations, or operations, it exists.

What is potential existence? What is actual existence? What is the difference between potential and actual existence? A thing exists potentially, or in potentia, when it is possible only. This same thing exists actually when it has not only this possible (potential) existence, but also a real existence in act.

A thing is, when in potentia, or when possessing only a possible existence; but it exists, when it has not only its root of substance or being, but also an actual manifestation.

When all outward things exist only in potentiality of manifestation, or, in short, when all things exist only in potentia, man also must cease from all actual existence; and must re-enter the potential state.

Man and the universe will be effaced together—all things will enter the potential state simultaneously; for the human intelligence reflects the universe, and the re-entering of the universe into the potential state will he marked by the smooth surface of the mirror (the mind of man) which gives thenceforth no reflection, which marks thenceforth no change.

Thus beings have become one being, in potentiality of manifestation. Yet when we say one being, our words must not be taken with too much strictness. Nature and man have re-entered into themselves, and all things exist only in potentia; they have become one being, insomuch as each is now a cause existing in potentiality of operation—one being, inasmuch as these causes are undistinguishable the one from the other, since all that can effect a distinction is swallowed up in the abyss of potentiality. But they are many beings, insomuch as they are the potentiality of a world involving diversity and change.

The Orientals held, as a very general thing, the Abyss to be God. The visible universe is nothing other than the Abyss itself, proceeding from the potential state into actual relations—proceeding from invisibility to visibility. Hence the invisible world, if it have a substantial existence, (which it must have, if it he identical with God,) is the substance of the visible, so that there would be but one substance or being in the universe; for the Abyss, as has been already shown, is one. The universe, therefore, while in the potential state, would be God, but after it has proceeded forth from invisibility to visibility, it is the actual world. Thus God is supposed to be the substance of the visible world. While things are in their actual relations, they are not God, but when they return into their primordial source, they are God; for each thing according to its potential existence is of the Abyss, and it is the whole Abyss, for the very being of the Abyss consists in this, that all which distinguishes one thing from another is swallowed up, destroyed. It is probably, for these or similar reasons, that some of our subjective Idealists (Transcendentalists) affirm that "they are God when they are out of the body, but not God when in the body."

Man is dependent, for the continuance of his life upon that which is not himself. He cannot always have food given him. There is no life in the Abyss, where all relations have vanished; there is no life in pure essence, but only in existence. Life ceases when man enters the Abyss: it commences when he emerges from the Abyss, and enters into relations. Man's life is in concurrence, in relations. The activity of the soul, whereby it enters into relations, is the life of the soul. The act of passing from the state of essence into that of existence, is life. Life, therefore, depending upon the soul, and upon that with which it is in relations; for the activity, which is the life, changes its character according as it is in relations with different objects. Man lives, in the order of the natural life, by eating food; he lives, by being brought, through the operations of the organs of sense, into relations with this visible and tangible world. Deprive man of nourishment, and he dies. Destroy his organs of sense, and he sinks into the condition described in the quotation from Dupuis.—But this body will be dissolved, this earthly tabernacle must be withdrawn; when, therefore we lose this body, which is the instrument whereby we are brought into relation with that which is not ourselves, how do we know that we shall not be cut off from all concurrence, from all relation? The man who has no life higher than that of the body, has no well grounded hope of immortality; for the body will one day be disorganised, and will return to its original elements.

Is there any life different from that of the body, and, if there is such a life, how shall man obtain it? Is there a spiritual world with which we may be in immediate relations, even as we are in relation with the natural world mediately through the body.

If there is a spiritual world with which the soul can come into immediate relations, then the soul can live two lives at once, one natural in the body, and the other spiritual in communion with this spiritual world. If the body is destroyed this spiritual life will not cease with the life in the body; for, by the hypothesis, it is independent of the body, consisting in an immediate concurrence with spiritual things. When the body decays, the soul will not return into the Abyss, for it will continue in actual, though spiritual relations. As the body is sustained by natural nourishment, so the soul will be sustained by spiritual nourishment.