In the last two lectures we first sketched the geography of a total world which stretches from the dispersed peripheral realm that we call the human cave to a mystical pole of unity where the lifelines stretching from this region have a common point of intersection: we then sketched the special appearances of a high-latitude circle in this world the circle we called that of the intelligible world or the noetic cosmos. Geography is for us however merely a preparation for ecology: the role of the world we have been constructing is to house the intelligent beings whose lot is cast in it and to provide the background and points of encounter in which they may fulfil their destiny. Among those intelligent beings the most important for us is man and we may therefore say that our whole cosmology like the cosmos it sketches is constructed for the sake of man. This teleology is not the absurd ego-centred construction that it seems: we saw at the end of our first series of lectures that it was only in terms of some such teleology that the immense tensions and antinomies in the experienced world could conceivably be ironed out. It must be because they are all needed for the emergence of rational interpersonal life and for the logical aesthetic practical personal and other values that it embodies that such surds are as they are. They are chasms which exist as necessary presuppositions of the rational bridges we build across them and in building which we as rational persons in effect build ourselves as well.
Lecture VIII | The Life of the Soul
The teleology to which we were committed by our first series of lectures was not however one that could be sustained in a merely this-world setting: to impose it on this world is to view the latter in a singularly forced arbitrary way that is moreover always breaking down into deeper despair. If such despair is to be kept at bay we have need of the otherworld vistas we have been constructing and that not merely as a self-saving personal opiate but as something which saves the phenomena which redeems them from utter absurdity and logical collapse. The use of otherworldly perspectives to give sense to our moral endeavours has of course been common in popular religion and ethically inspired philosophies: the use of such perspectives to explain certain facts of knowledge is peculiar to Platonism. We alone seem to wish to use it to explain all human existence and its setting including much that seems to have little to do with man at all.
The use of otherworldly states to illuminate this-world conditions must take account of the prime fact that they are deeply hidden from us that we have nothing that counts as a certain encounter with them not even much that counts as indirectly pointing to them as being such that it could hardly have been as it is had our life not had an otherworldly background. The construction in question is no ordinary hypothesis no extension of this-world pattern in an unfamiliar direction which though daring is at once rewarded by a vast amount of this-world confirmation which would not at all fit some slightly different extension. It is a construction in which we not only go in quest of new facts but of facts ordered by new not wholly understandable categories in which we grope in the dark and in which our gropings have no clear link with what we have encountered or expect to encounter ‘down here’. It is in fact a movement away from the plane of our normal exploration based only on highly general characters of what we encounter here and involving moreover not only a great turn in a new direction but a great leap towards states which though having affinities with this-world conditions are always thought of as being ‘deeply different’ from them. It is in short a profoundly unjustified leap if justification is measured by the strength of this-world indications and evidence and for many it would also seem a leap of doubtful significance since we do not profess to be able to point to instances which would illustrate what we mean. The full justification of truth and significance lie all in anticipation: now it is impossible to understand explain and vouch for all that we say but then all will be simple and clear. To some the whole venture is necessarily chimerical one into which costly intellectual effort is being vainly diverted: our reply is that chimeras haunt all human undertakings and are not less part of the scene because we turn our backs on them. The spectacles of another life may one day unroll themselves before us but the abstract constructions of mere positivism never did and never will. What we are however obliged to show is not merely the need of otherworldly construction for the solution of this-world difficulties: we are also obliged to show the need of otherworldly obscurity and uncertainty for the solution in question. An otherworldly background must in short not function in explanation except as a deeply obscure uncertain background: the waters of Lethe must lap it around and a palimpsest of pure naturalism must overlay and blur the sense of its inscribed message. It is only as not seeming to be a likely continuation of this-world states that it can from a higher point of view really be their inevitable continuation their explanatory completion. Our life in short is lived in a cave and whatever surrounds and explains cave-life must seem sharply cut off from it utterly separate from it occurring in quite another territory or medium. The justification of this seeming discontinuity must lie in its utter necessity for the higher forms of spiritual life a necessity that we at times deeply feel but at other times find it very hard to argue for. What we must be able to show is that an astringent touch of despair is as necessary as a touch of hope to the carrying on of the higher spiritual enterprises and that we can only win to regions where all will be gloriously bridged if we have also toiled at levels where the very possibility of such bridging seemed utterly in doubt. The difficult contentions we are hazarding will however only acquire full persuasiveness when we have carried the argument a little further.
The otherworldly continuation we are postulating is a continuation of the conscious thinking person of the self-identifying person and it must be a continuation in time though at its extreme limits it may well do something that could be called ‘passing out of time’. It must be the sort of continuance that a conscious person could say that he had or was about to have and that he would not say that someone else another person or ego had or was going to have. Other types of queer continuance there well may be in which it might be reasonable to say that the acts and states of someone were continued in the acts and states of a number of distinct persons or continued in the acts and states of someone who continued the acts and states of other persons as well or continued in acts and states that would be said to belong to some other person. There may well be forms of individuality more fluid and shifting than those that men ordinarily ascribe to themselves and the life of spirits or angels may well offer phenomena to which such terms as ‘coalescence’ and ‘fission’ have a profoundly justified not lightly given application. Human individuality with its seeming promise of indefinitely continued separated duration at least in principle may be only one among several patterns of individuality which the cosmos provides though it is hard to believe that it does not also enshrine the most valuable possibilities in that cosmos a belief expressed in the doctrine that the Divine Word took on human and not angelic form and that the human Buddha was the teacher of gods as well as men.
However this may be the continuance we are considering which is necessary to make the upper world play its full part in the whole spiritual economy is one in which the individual conscious person can project his identity in some deep sense beyond the limits of his fleshly being in which he can be and feel himself to be amphibious capable of life in two media much as even in this fleshly medium he can pass from the sphere of overt bodily response to that of internal spiritual adjustment and vice versa. This continued life in two media need not be thought to involve the full actuality of a memory spanning the whole period of continuance though it does involve the real possibility of such a memory. Even in this life we all acknowledge the possibility that we may have done and undergone many things of which we now have no recollection and that we may pass over into states in which we shall not remember what we are now doing or undergoing. Identity of self is a matter presupposed by memory and not constituted by it and nothing is easier to conceive than that we shall be in states without remembering the state in which we now look forward to them. But to project our identity in this manner is also to expect that it will be capable of announcing itself in some manner that such announcement though not trivially necessary is none the less inherently likely. There must therefore be states in which anything and everything in the past history of a personal self or ego is inherently likely to be given if the notion of its separate continuance is not to be emptily formal. It goes without saying that personal continuance will be emptily formal if it does not further go with a deep heritage of character and personal traits which comes out more clearly the more we enter into the whole habit of the person concerned and which alone could afford positive ground for speaking of such continuance. And just as there are principles of growth and senescence which enables us to detect the friend of our youth in the mature adult or withered elder before us so there must be rules of transformation or transfiguration in virtue of which earthly persons are connected with their glorious or darkened shapes in another world. Those accustomed to directing intentions to the dead know how at times they make themselves known to our feeling in an extraordinary glorified manner recognizably the same yet all raised as it were to a higher degree or power of themselves.
It may here be held further that some attenuation of bodily continuance is part and parcel of personal continuance beyond the limits of this life. The distinctness and discreteness of persons though not the same as spatial distinctness and discreteness only becomes fully manifest and contentful through the latter just as the mutual self-revelation of persons to persons and all their mutual intercourse require the continuously graded distances and the limiting contacts of space. As we have held the lower latitudes of the unseen world involve many approximations to bodily being though with diminished persistence resistance inertia publicity and other bodily traits. Personal continuance might at this level assume dispersed forms such as widespread and intermittent appearances all characterized by a style or a use of symbolic devices that connected them with a particular person. Cezanne might reveal his presence by a subtle look cast upon the landscape rather than by any particular bodily form. But the full exercise of personal being demands the use of many sensitive and active bodily channels and could not be contentfully continued in a wholly dissimilar medium any more than the pattern of a symphony could be continued in a series of smells. After-life continuance while it may assume many vagrant and detached forms as it does even now in letters tape-recordings etc. must in the main continue itself in something like a persistent body or set of bodies. In this life we are simply located laboriously operative slowly changing beings with our heritage stored in our muscles and nerves and our whole solidity and salience as spiritual beings depends on these facts. In the life to come we may change in these respects but not quite beyond recognition if our continued subsistence is to be a contentful matter. We are moreover beings whose prime way of showing ourselves to our fellows is more than a misty velleity just because it involves the solidities and publicities of the flesh and though this will certainly be attenuated as we rise in spiritual latitude there is sound reason for holding that even in such attenuation we must retain some shadow of sensuous glory or inglory something that could count as a spiritual or otherworldly body. If all this were utterly dispensed with the distinction of persons would cease to be a contentful matter. Such a dispensing with personal distinctness may well be the rule at or near the mystical pole but not at latitudes at which we can think or speak.
We now come to a great crux in our speculative construction where religious tradition is almost equally divided. Shall we make personal continuance two-sided so that it extends before as well as after this present life or shall we make it one-sided so that it becomes entirely a matter of futurity? And if we hold the former shall we adopt the view of a rhythmic alternation of this-worldly and otherworldly states of repeated incarnations with intermediate otherworldly periods as in Hinduism or Buddhism and as also taught by Pythagoras and Plato and a vital part of the finest Platonic dialogues? It is not the policy of these lectures to take a firm stand on an issue so essentially obscure. We cannot however avoid saying that the Indo-Pythagorean-Platonic account forms a coherently thought-out cosmological picture which also fits in better with the spiritual geography we have been constructing than the alternative Christian account which seems in fact to be a strange compromise between an essentially this-world eschatology and a genuine otherworldly cosmology. The Jews as we saw let the necessary side of their religious absolute its crown of ineffable excellences incapable of realization in any set of existent instances however prolonged or extensive become lost in a contingent historical series a divine act or programme carried out on earth and ending in earth's transfiguration which they rightly saw (we may say) to be the other side of a worthwhile religious absolute. To what we may call the contingent element in divinity the element necessary in general but not in any precise form they accorded the homage which only the necessary can deserve and hence their God became a being in whom the exercise of magisterial decision became exalted over all other forms of excellence while man's supreme virtue lay in unquestioning submission to that will. In this religion of magnificent arbitrariness so satisfactory to a deep though not to the deepest segment in human nature the violent and catastrophic everywhere took on the role of the adorably necessary and what wonder that the whole arbitrary drama should point to the unpredictable coming of a divinely sponsored Messiah to the uprising of the dead from their graves and to the inauguration of a kingdom where righteousness and brotherhood and other absolute values should be present in sensuous and highly personal form? In this scheme violence dominates categories and values and removes all philosophical tensions: there is no need of another world in which the quarrel of categories and the quarrel of wills and values will be gradually adjusted. Opacity and resistance yield to the touch of God and of the appointed hour. When however it became clear in the disillusioned dawn of unfulfilled eschatology that the divine kingdom was not of this world in a sense different from that intended by the heavenly Messiah the need for otherworld extensions began to be felt and gave rise to all those hasty constructions long hallowed by tradition in which it is impossible not to see a mixture of the improvised and the borrowed. In this construction the soul's sudden origin at birth saddled the Creator with a load of unsearchable arbitrariness which a responsible theology should have sought to mitigate. The soul's asymmetrical persistence seems paradoxical in this setting and serves little real purpose and we have on the one hand the unprofitable torturing of those whose wills are irrevocably set in evil and a purgation whose result is foreseeable on the other. On this other world picture the old this-world eschatology is still superimposed: at a ‘last judgment’ previous judgments will be recapitulated and bodies raised to give full concreteness to beings whose long survival without them proves that they never really needed them. What survives and tells in all this incongruity is simply the soul's progress towards the mystical pole where all good and all being are concentrated the soul's necessary love for what is at this pole and the love-like response which draws it beyond itself the necessary obstacles which choice and chance put in its path and the varied circumstances which form the setting of its progress and the continuation of that progress and its conditions beyond the setting of this present life. All this and considerably more is to be found in Plato's stress on the importance for our eternal well-being of each trivial choice here and now. The Christian picture has confused the Platonic otherworldly vision without however wholly destroying it. The consensus of the best spiritual opinion and insight in regard to the life beyond is in the view of the present lecturer to be found in the cosmic speculations of our Aryan ancestors whether Brahmanic Buddhistic Orphic Pythagorean Platonic or Neoplatonic. To this the Jews added a vision whose intense moral fervour provided the necessary complement to whatever is negative inert and emptily transcendental in the otherworld vision in question. We may be urged to be Jews in regard to this world and Brahmins or Neoplatonists in regard to the next.
We may now hazard a view which applies alike to the Indo-Pythagorean and the Christian view of the after-life: that the after-life is in a sense parasitic upon the present one and that its task consists mainly in an assimilation a spiritual digestion of the experiences and acts of this one seeing them in wider and more fluid contexts comparing them with ideals and values of varying sorts consolidating their contributions into a new phase of resolution and attitude but not advancing effectively beyond them. Whereas our this-world existence with all its agony and blindness is the phase of our life where alone we confront serious problems and resistances where alone we enter into profound personal commitments to others and where alone we make firm resolves and perform momentous and influential acts. In the essentially yielding medium of the upper world the events of earth-life can be relived over and over their import seen in most varied connections their lessons learnt and their outcome purified from whatever dross clings to them but they cannot significantly be added to: that can alone be done among the resistances and obscurities of earth-life in what we have called the cave. What we are professing is unfashionably Victorian in spirit: that the highest of all values are inseparable from earnest effort that they require doubt insecurity temptation suffering and profound difficulty and that only cave-life with its narrowed perspectives and mocking antinomies will enable them to be realized. The life at the world's mystical pole may be one of bliss and peace but it is bliss and peace springing from the intensest actuosity and we can only share in that bliss and peace by sharing also in that actuosity. It is in the cave alone that such full sharing is possible for us and the life beyond is therefore essentially a lying back on our laurels a period of absorption and refreshment or in the unfavourable case of becoming really clear how lamentably we have performed. This is of course in accord with Christian otherworldliness for which the soul's destiny is always decided in this life and often dramatically in our last moments but in the Indo-Pythagorean scheme the intermediate discarnate state could also have the function of gathering together and consolidating the experiences and attitudes which will pervade the next life and which will be real influences even though their precise source is forgotten. This suggested view might look at incarnate life in a manner different from the actual Indo-Pythagorean tradition and might accord better in spirit with the Christian-Jewish valuation of transfigured earthliness of bodily resurrection and of a God who did not despise the Virgin's womb. No explanation in fact seems required of the need for earthly existence whether on the part of a creative or a creaturely spirit: it is the need which drives us to produce works of art instead of meditating on absolute beauty or which drives a seaman regularly to his confined difficult life at sea in preference to an existence in which impact and action are alike muted and muffled. But we need to set aside this need for real engagement which is the characteristic Jewish-Christian contribution a need for disengagement and distance and self-collecting understanding which is inseparable from the former and lives by negating it. This dual need is best served if the soul's life is a regular alternation between disengaged discarnate states in which memory of previous states becomes fully actual and engaged incarnate states in which the waters of Lethe remove all but the narrow view necessary for the living practical issues on hand. It is not so well served by the Christian scheme of a brief incarnate phase followed by an endless discarnate one but in that scheme too though there may not be waters of Lethe there is a corresponding obscurity regarding a future state towards which nothing inclines us but philosophical and moral faith. In both schemes the other life sheds a precious illumination on this one and reduces the sting of its problems.
It may now be held that the traditional view is correct in seeing in the other world a region where what is and what ought to be are gradually and often painfully brought together as they need not be at all brought together in this present life. The other life is in short a zone of recompense and purgation where spiritual beings at least tend to see and feel the error of their ways and on the alternating assumption to re-enter life repentant and with a new orientation to their problems. It is also a zone of spiritual refreshment where the values achieved in fleshly existence can be permitted to shine forth in their full glory. The progress of the soul in the other life is accordingly plausibly first through states in which in the less resistant otherworldly medium personal interests and passions can have the full scope denied them in this life and can shape the environment much as they now run wild in our personal fantasies. The dreadful monotony of personal passion will be most profoundly felt where there are no restrictions upon its gratification and where all combines to pander to it. Sojourn in an otherworldly Venusberg can probably be relied on to produce satiety for the delights it offers much more readily than can many years spent in libertinage in an earthly city of pleasure. And the same would apply to the gratifications of personal passions like malice cruelty vainglorious ambition etc.; give them full rein and their wanton one-sidedness would soon be felt as ennui. Only the most determined ingenuity could hold back this utter final weariness the fruit of all mere going against the grain of things.
The progress of the soul will further be aided by the increased translucence of personal relations: here in this life the bodily shells of things alone force themselves upon our notice and then only when they are near at hand. The interior appearances and responses to things from other standpoints make no strong impact upon us and are readily disregarded. In the other world however these interior appearances will not be so readily evaded and they will pierce to the very citadel of our self-feeling and of our comfort so that we shall not be able to take up an attitude towards them without also fully living through their response to this attitude. Nothing better assists the development of an impersonal conscience than a change from the position where putting oneself into someone else's shoes is a gratuitous imaginative exercise quite optional in the case of animals to one in which it is a haunting solidly elaborated infinitely vivid necessity at all times. Only the most determined wickedness could ride roughshod over a protest that the wicked person himself felt in all its intensity. Most human wickedness consists in an unjust overriding of the needs and claims of others and such overriding will be cured not by intrusive punishments inflicted by otherworldly jailers but by a steady reduction of the gulf between ourselves and others. There is no reason why we should be mealy-mouthed about otherworld agonies. The unbaptized or the heretic may have nothing to fear but the perpetrators of crimes like those of the grimmer Nazis will certainly require millennia to re-enact to realize and to repent fully of what they have done. The punishment for wickedness must not be conceived legalistically: it is of course essentially self-administered. What we have called the impersonal segment in the human person the segment concerned to rise above all contingency of content and person and to pursue only that which makes a necessary appeal to everyone and for everyone is no accidental offshoot of human nature coaxed into unnatural predominance by certain forms of social training: it is the necessary part of human nature which will tend to emerge as a phenomenon of higher order upon whatever contingent set of personal interests may at first serve as its substructure and which will tend further to be strengthened by so many forces pushing in one direction—all the forces pressing towards open universality which we may say represent the essential nisus of consciousness itself—that it can only with difficulty fail to achieve the centrality and authority which are part of its idea. In this life the immediacies of sense and of personal passion may combine to stave it off and keep it marginal but in the freer medium of otherworld life it may open floodgates which will ensure its supreme sway. It will not suffer us to turn away from the terrible impact of the attitudes of others but will open us up to their full penetration and in so doing reconfirm its own authority over us. We shall ourselves voluntarily enter into the wrongs inflicted by ourselves on others and shall continue to plumb them until we have absolutely foresworn them. That in some rare cases this might never happen is of course perfectly conceivable since there is nothing mechanical about spiritual purgation but to be thus obdurate must involve deep difficulty. To be wholly successful it must involve a profound deadening warping and stultification of the spirit the perverse negation of what it essentially is a negation we cannot put beyond the bounds of possibility since it is involved in the higher possibility of negating such a negation and setting it utterly aside. On the basis of such perversity souls may indeed erect for themselves a cold realm of wickedness a very Versailles of damnation perhaps filled with aesthetic intellectual and other amenities to which a perverse twist has been given. Such possibilities are however parasitic upon the normal developments from which they deviate and which they so unhappily frustrate. What we are saying will not preclude the possibility of many beings who would play a part as one might say in the management of the hells and purgatories we have been outlining but they cannot be the basic agents in such zones of concentration. It is the soul itself that by its own inner conflicts gravitates to the equilibrium or the disequilibrium of an appropriate hell or purgatory and which must go to such dark places of torment or uneasy joy because basically and secretly it is inflamed with a necessary love for a necessarily existent omniexcellent object without whose crowning being it could neither deviate nor repent of its deviations. What is essential is to see the deep necessities not unfitly to be called ‘logical’ or ‘categorial’ underlying what would otherwise be a not very edifying set of myths.
The higher levels of the world to come will be reached after the purgations of the lower regions have been gone through and will as we have said represent a glorified version of all the achievements of the human person in earthly life: its hardest sacrifices for difficult impersonal ends its deepest penetrations into the life and interest of others its aesthetic visions of exhibited essence its scientific illuminations etc. etc. These experiences involved celestial overtones when they occurred on earth and these overtones may vibrate for a period which to the celestial sense has every mark of being endless. As argued above time becomes more and more arrested at higher spiritual latitudes so that it will be more or less a matter of viewpoint whether we describe these heavenly conditions as lasting for aeons or as compressed into a moment. What will be characteristic of such heavenly conditions will be moreover a full consciousness of the context of our earthly achievement. We shall see them in the full setting of our own achievement in former existences if such there were and also in the full setting of all human achievement and possibility in the full superabundance that is of the noetic cosmos and its infinite riches. And we shall see them at a level where the schism between being and value has been healed where all is above all secure and where the anxiety which affects lower levels of being has been wholly exorcized. From such a vision it is quite possible that we shall return and shall want to return with renewed energy to the encounters and decisions of earthly existence as long as these have relevance for our spiritual progress. We may here again grant the possibility of a heavenly administration responsible for many of the details of celestial existence. Quite possibly numerous exalted beings have elaborated their own ‘pure lands’ where the higher forms of spiritual refreshment will be available to many. As before it will be the soul itself that gravitates to its appropriate ‘pure land’ dedicated to the flowering of its own brand of spirituality.
We here come up against a difference of opinion between the Christian and Indian point of view which requires careful consideration. The Christian view with its stress on ultimate arbitrariness readily makes the purgative penal and compensatory arrangements of an other life arbitrary arrangements: they are what the supreme Will allots to those who have obeyed or disobeyed its decrees. The Indian view has in the main held to a curious semi-mechanistic view of Karma or Action doubly curious in a system like that of early Buddhism where impersonal causal connection rather than personal agency alone links the various momentary phases of conscious and unconscious existence. Karma or Action is in part an ethical concept in that it involves among other things that evil deeds promote misery in this or another life whereas good deeds create happiness or at least alleviate misery but it conceives the moral order it postulates in quantitative and mechanical terms. A certain amount of ill desert hangs like a cloud as it were over an evil-doer until it discharges itself in an appropriate amount of suffering. Karma or Action is also less questionably a theory of attachment which explains why personal life continues in the courses to which it has committed itself and necessarily undergoes the full working out of its own attitudes but this profound view is not as such necessarily moral. In a value-free order such as early Buddhism postulated there is no clear reason why some cases of attachment i.e. those involving recognized forms of immorality should bring more misery than others i.e. those involving obedience to established precepts. The ordinary virtues are in fact only loosely connected with a pure emancipation-philosophy as indeed became evident in the last tantric phase of Buddhism when the violation of ordinary moral precepts became a sure sign of the higher emancipation. The notion of Karma or Action would in fact seem to be a thoroughly confused concept a genuine case of the naturalistic fallacy i.e. it covertly brings in issues of moral value while professing to offer us only a pure naturalism. What it requires to work satisfactorily is a deep-set teleology such as we have unabashedly postulated an equation of the highest values with the objects of necessary and ultimate tendency and desire. It is possible to have an abstract notion of things as they are into which value-considerations do not intrude and it is possible to have abstracted understandings of value from which considerations of fact are excluded but deeper insight into either shows them to be securely married: the one is given as endowed with an inherent nisus to pass over into the other. If this be admitted Karma or Action will work but it will be transformed out of all recognition since it will no longer merely be our past evil or good deeds that will produce present misery or happiness but our past commitments in their conflict with our own inescapable commitment to certain supreme perfections which either underlie all life and being or lie wholly beyond it. And once Karma or Action is given such a twist it will also lose its mechanical character: there is no precise measure of ill-desert and no precise equation of it with degree of misery. The misery which compensates and duly punishes an offence is the misery necessary to make us fully aware of its enormity through every fibre of our practical being and the amount and character of misery required will differ according to the person and the circumstances. Suffering as such not bound up with any realization of ill-desert has no purgative or other value and merely adds to the evil of the universe.
The notion of Karma or Action is further absurd as applied within the limits of our present life where it implies a denial of the indifference of inorganic bodily masses to value-considerations and of the freedom of human agents to neglect value-considerations or to trespass against them. Alternatively it presupposes some sort of unintelligible pre-established harmony between freedom and chance on the one hand and spiritual teleology on the other. Obviously an avalanche must be able to overwhelm me or a wicked man to waylay and rob and murder me whether or not this fate is written into my Karma and whether or not it is a fate that I deserve to undergo. The precise difference between the cave where mass-effects satisfy nobody and everything is at cross-purposes with everything and the upper world where there is an ever increasing accommodation of value and being would be quite set aside by such a gross intrusion of values into the sphere of this earthly life. What we have therefore whether in our earthly or our upper world is an order neither mechanical nor arbitrarily personal which gradually brings the extremes of fact and value out of an apartness which is necessary to their being truly brought together. This deep nisus operating through and overcoming mechanism is not really distinct from our religious absolute itself. For the mystical pole of the universe is not merely a geographical but a magnetic pole which inevitably though not mechanically draws things towards itself.
We may now attempt with extreme tentativeness to sketch a typical biography of the conscious human spirit both in this earthly life and in other worlds. On the one-life scheme this history will have a somewhat arbitrary hidebound pattern: personal development will start at various points according to the natural endowment of particular infants and the particular cultural and personal circle into which they are born. Earthly life will develop both the personal and the supra-personal absolute interests of the man in question and in the life to come there will be in the favourable case a gradual purification of the personal side of the man's nature and its transfigurement into such glorified impersonal values and merits as it is able to show forth. But on any many-life scheme there will be something like a natural cycle involved in the whole spiritual history. It will begin with the flowering of purely animal first-order interest directed to contingent goals of various sorts rather than their higher-order interestingness and will then slowly rise above this to the cruder forms of self-interest. Then it will progress to those varied forms of what may be called social or tribal selfishness in which a man subordinates all other interests to those of some limited group to which he belongs. Here one has the beginnings of the impersonality or supra-personality inherent in all conscious reflective desire which we can see must tend to become stronger in the detached atmosphere of reflection. By a carrying further of the natural tendency involved in such desire we have the gradual emergence of generalized benevolence and justice: a desire directed to the satisfaction of everyone's interests and opposed to all narrowness and partiality. Concurrently with all this there will necessarily tend to be a development of those sister forms of disinterestedness which are not concerned with persons and their interests but with the truth possible truth and explanatory power of notions and alternatives as in science with the perspicuous manifestation of essence as in art or with sheer self-immersion in creative effort of whatever sort.
All this is one phase of the development of the human person a phase in which in the main personal characteristics and interests become more and more definite but in which they also become set in a framework of those impersonal interests which form the necessary rather than the contingent side of human nature. It is not necessary to imagine that the pattern we have sketched will always be followed: it is certain that it will not. The necessities of the spirit are never more than necessities of drift and tendency and can be warped by stepmotherly circumstances as well as by our own repeated exercises of choice and freedom which on the many-life system will have taken place countless times before our present life. Each child born into the world will be the heir of innumerable unremembered decisions still effective in the form of character. We are not committed to a Humean view of causation according to which an action only is caused if it follows from antecedents according to a general pattern nor is our notion of responsibility connected with that of a wholly fixed character or set of personal dispositions. The idea of free causality is that of an agency uncommitted but self-committing guided but not obliged by its own former decisions and which is fully explanatory with or without additional factors of any alternative it may actually realize. This is the notion of choice of decision as we have conceived the matter that it can settle issues that nothing else can settle and from the earliest period of conscious fleshly existence there will accordingly be choices made which will shape and perhaps warp further attitudes. Though life in subtler worlds will tend to iron out such warpings there is no guarantee that it will always succeed in doing so. With the development of higher wider interests there is also moreover the possibility of perverse developments of the latter; corrupt and pitiless aestheticisms cults of blind loyalty and obedience to impulse of ruthless buccaneering of torment and immolation senselessly imposed on self and others etc. etc. We hold however that the achievement of a highly developed strongly engaged personality with great attachment to things and persons and with at the same time a considerable deference for impersonal values of various sorts and possibly their incorporation into a religion is not only a normal outcome in the sense of being how in the light of absolute values a man ought to develop but also in the sense of being how men will in the main mass tend to develop as the result of this-world and other-world influences and experiences. We need not here repeat that we see no error in a marriage not tautological and definitory but none the less essential and logical between what should happen and what will actually tend to happen which some heroically confused would regard as a dangerously optimistic form of ‘naturalism’.
But at a certain point in human development there will tend to be a great turn one of repentance of metanoesis a turn acknowledged in all religions but whose necessity can also be seen a priori. It is necessary we may say because it is part of the self-consciousness and self-existence of the absolute being without which nothing can either be thought of or be. The higher-order impersonal interests which have merely provided the framework for our strengthening personal attachments will tend to take over altogether and make personal interests their mere instruments and material. The impersonality involved in all our higher-order interests will develop its own zest we shall love it itself and for its own sake and we shall find something mean paltry and restricted in the contingent personal goals on which it has first built itself. This development will be aided by innumerable this-world forays and otherworld retreats in which more and more store will come to be attached to the permanent otherworld outcome of this-world existence and less and less importance to the limited transitory aims and relationships which this-world living affords. This-world contingencies will dissolve as such but the interpersonal aesthetic intellectual moral and other deposit they leave behind them will become richer and richer: in the end these alone will be informed by essential zeal and all else will be done only for them. The process is nigh inevitable and only extraordinary accidents or deeply ingrained perversities of attitude can resist it effectively: we fall more and more out of love with this world and more and more in love with what is yonder. We become more and more seized with love for that necessary combination of all being and excellence which we have placed at the mystical pole of the cosmos whether we speak and think of it in personal or in impersonal in concrete or in abstract in existential or nihilistic terms. We may again stress that even on this upward path new and peculiar forms of perversion necessarily open themselves: there are higher forms of spiritual selfishness ruthlessness and deliberate animality of which the history of human experimentation affords only too many instances. Nothing excludes the possibility that some of these evil stances may acquire great fixity in certain beings may in fact end by becoming permanent blots upon the cosmos. But by and large the tendency of things must be to eliminate them: while first-order brutishness comes natural and easy the higher depravities must certainly involve much exhausting effort. The innumerable damned whose wills are fixed at death in drear postures of evil are happily an unwarranted fantasy.
On the beginning and the end of the human cycle I have sketched I can of course only make most tentative suggestions. But there may well be forms of conscious life less bound up with long-lasting exclusive forms of ego-existence than our own and there is nothing in the prospective and retrospective dimensions of ego-life which excludes the possibility that we may look back to a conscious life which we rightly regard as our own but which is rightly looked backward to by those who are now rightly regarded as others and that we may look forward to a conscious life which we similarly regard as own own but which is also similarly looked forward to by what are now rightly regarded as others. The logic of terms which are ‘identical’ at certain points of time and ‘quite different’ at others which become one or cease to be one is an extremely simple logic to develop and only a perverse preoccupation with tenselessness has delayed its full formalization. (Though it may well be doubted whether sharply opposed notions like ‘identity’ and ‘diversity’ can have any but an abstract application to anything.) There is therefore no reason why there may not be forms of spiritual life much less parcelled out into discrete persistent units than the spiritual life of man and the life of animals on the one hand and of glorified angelic beings on the other may afford good examples of this. Out of the life of animals human spirituality must probably have shaped itself by processes I am not competent to trace but which explain and justify that deep respect for animals and that horror at their sufferings which is no mere Pythagorean quirk. The lessening of that horror in recent times the toleration of the bull-fight or the factory-farm are among the saddest phenomena of our age against which even a detached philosopher must inveigh. And into some glorified superhuman form of continuous spiritual being we may well be destined to go again by processes that I am incompetent to trace. I only feel sure personally that something like a parinirvana must be a necessary final milestone to spiritual progress a state where the spiritual contribution of a person becomes simply a node in the noetic cosmos something that anyone who rises to that world can enter into and share but which is not further continued in an exclusive personal history. Nothing prevents us from holding that the ego which at lower levels may be the most basic and irreducible of appearances may not at higher levels by a removal of appropriate contrasts fade out in a manner which challenges us to call it an apotheosis but which may just as well be described as the painless vanishing of an illusion. There are limits to what can be achieved along any line of separated personal development ends to any story however beautiful a time when such a story must simply take its place in the literature of the world. There is a death which we shall all in our ultimate maturity welcome: it is not the cessation of personal being that is to be lamented but that we are not able to consummate it in our time and way. The Sein zum Tode which Heidegger saw at the root of human existence may well represent its ultimate sense: its seeming negation may however involve a blessed positive richness and comfort which the philosopher of Angst was far from conceiving.
The account I have been giving has throughout made mention of the mystical pole of the whole system from which we periodically sally and to which we retreat. Our relation to this mystical pole could only simple-mindedly be regarded as one of identity: the very form and pattern of our sundered transient being is not there at all. But equally it would be wrong to regard it as one of sheer otherness or diversity underlined as this has been underlined in many forms of religion. The whole nisus of our being is towards the mystical pole in question; it carries to the limit the values that necessarily emerge out of our contingent purposes. There is moreover a line of retreat that can be followed towards it and that has its necessary limit in various ecstatic experiences of our own: these we are concerned to regard as necessities of spiritual geography rather than as anything of unique importance in themselves. The importance of an ecstasy depends solely on the worth of the soul that transcends itself in it. The whole process of development we have been sketching has further been regarded exclusively from the standpoint of the human spirit and not from that of any life that may lie beyond it. What is however from one point of view the self-emancipation of man may from another point of view be man's redemption by a life that transcends his own. It is the life and agency that may be conceived to be in and about the mystical pole of the cosmos that will concern us in our next lecture. We shall be as drily formal about it as possible since we shall achieve no more by trying to be anything else.
From the book: