Culture, Crisis & Creativity

by Dane Rudhyar

2. Culture-Wholes
& the Process of Civilization

If we are to understand clearly and convincingly the significance of what we are facing as human beings seeking to orient ourselves in a confused and cathartic world-situation, it is most important for us to differentiate between what belongs to the realm of culture and what should be referred to the larger planetary rhythm of the process of civilization. These two italicized words have been variously defined and often interchangeably used—a practice which actually has confused basic issues. It is therefore imperative to state unequivocally and as precisely as possible the meaning I am giving them in this book. In so doing I may have to overemphasize some of their contrasting features, but where there is contrast there is also complementarity and interrelationship. The meaning of such a relationship today is what we have primarily to understand, so that we can consciously and deliberately take a meaningful stand.

The word culture can be used in both a subjective and an objective sense. It has a subjective meaning when we speak of "a man of culture"; that is, of a person displaying certain qualities of breeding, education, and refinement of manners. The meaning is subjective in the sense that it refers to the character and feelings of human beings. On the other hand, the meaning is objective when we speak of a culture and its development. In order to avoid any possible confusion I am using here the term "culture-whole" in order to emphasize the objective and organismic character of a culture.

A culture-whole can be defined as an organized field of collective human activity having specific characteristics and operating within more or less clearly marked—even if in most cases gradually expanding—boundaries. The definite characteristics of that field, the culture-whole, are derived from a set of philosophical-religious and psychological premises which in turn are conditioned by racial or genetic features, and by geomagnetic, climatic, and environmental factors. A culture-whole is, in the broadest sense of the term, an organism; it is born and grows amidst struggles; it matures and crystallizes during a classical age; it develops internal conflicts, and gradually disintegrates, even though its remains may endure until they are absorbed into a new culture-whole.

A culture-whole depends upon what the particular region of the biosphere in which it was born has to offer in terms of natural resources. These are provided by the soil, the water, the flora and fauna of the region; and they condition, if not entirely determine, the way of life of the people of the culture-whole. The region is the home of the people; its land is the foundation of all they consider precious and significant, once they have settled upon it and the character of the culture-whole begins to assert itself. They are rooted in it almost as profoundly as trees in the soil. The village the people build is for them the center of the world. All cultures are locality-centered.

The people living in the space in which the culture-whole gradually takes form have in many instances—perhaps always in relatively recent times—at least two or three different racial origins and original languages; but these languages combine in an often harsh and violent interplay to form the official language of the culture-whole, as the latter grows to maturity and seeks to formulate its basic character and to develop more effective forms of communication. Any fully developed culture has also a dominant "religion"—in the broadest sense of this term. It accepts as basic, and most of its members take for granted, a number of metaphysical ideas, psychological attitudes, and socioethical principles, and it features a number of "rituals," festivals, and collective modes of behavior—a way of life which at least in some respect is uniquely or characteristically its own. Such a way of life is an answer to basic needs collectively felt and physically experienced by the people held together by the psychomental magnetic field of the culture-whole. This answer manifests in a myriad of forms, which have almost a "living" quality as they express the particular character that the deeply generic urges of the human species as a whole have taken as they have faced the conditions and the challenges of a particular environment.

Everything that strictly belongs to the realm of culture has a fundamentally biological character. It is a product of a collective human response to the rhythms of the biosphere in the particular locality in which the culture-whole has taken form and developed. Humans, however, have the capacity to express biological responses to nature in a symbolic form, which serves as means of communication making possible group cooperation and a collective way of fulfilling biological needs and meeting the everyday challenges of human existence. Most and perhaps all animal species have such a capacity in at least a rudimentary state, and it may exist even in the vegetable kingdom; but the rootedness of plants and trees in the soil obviously restricts the possibility of cooperative action to the barest minimum. In mankind this possibility acquires a new dimension. As Count Korzybski stated in his early book The Discovery of Man, humans are endowed with a "time-binding" faculty which seems to be lacking in animal species.

Such an apparently innate faculty makes it possible for human beings not only to communicate with each other by means of symbolic gestures and vocal sounds, but also to transfer to their progeny the knowledge resulting from individual and group experiences. Some kind of transfer of knowledge is in some degree possible for animals; but it presumably is limited to what the young learns from its mother and the adults of the group during a very brief period of education through imitative behavior. The symbol-generating capacity of human beings, even at the primitive cultural level, goes much further. In humans, biological urges not only have psychic overtones, but these overtones can in turn act as fundamental tones acquiring a degree of independence from biological drives and needs. A new, and let us say "higher" or biology-transcending type of needs results from such an independence. Gradually, as mankind evolves, this independence and the needs it engenders produce a new realm of human activity. To use a now familiar term, a noosphere develops with characteristics and potentialities of its own.

Some philosophers and scientists have seemed to picture this noosphere as above and surrounding the biosphere; and perhaps the concept is valid. It is valid if we think of vibratory frequencies—that is, of lower and higher vibrations (of fundamental tone and octaves of overtones of increasing frequencies). But we should realize also that what is "above" penetrates what is "below." It does so at least until the center of consciousness is irreversibly shifted from the realm of "below" to that of "above"—from the biosphere to the noosphere. Then the above completely detaches itself from the below. The process, which will lead eventually to the detachment of the noosphere from the biosphere, is what I call civilization. When we consider mankind as a whole, civilization is an extremely lengthy process; yet, some relatively rare individuals are able to go through it in a special manner and at a very accelerated pace.

Generally speaking, what we today call civilization refers only to the first stage of a planetary process which, probably after millions of years, should utterly transform not only mankind, but the entire Earth and the type of matter to which we are now accustomed. This first stage has been extremely disturbing to the condition of the biosphere, and today we are faced with a large-scale poisoning of the biosphere as the result of the vast complex of human activities which we consider to be "civilization." But is this really what should be called civilization? Is it not rather the result of the first wholesale impact of the process of civilization upon a type of culture which brought together special types of human beings in a particular land, Europe, and at a time in the evolution of mankind which called for such an impact?

What then do I exactly mean by the process of civilization?

In France and England during the Classical and post-Classical period of the Enlightenment—the eighteenth century— the word civilization was used in contrast to barbarism. Europe was bringing to barbarian or pagan people "the blessings of civilization," and these of course included Christianity. In America, the European colonists who were invading Indian lands were also bringing such "blessings" to the "uncivilized" pagan tribes. This traditional use of the word civilization was linked with the concept of linear progress, which dominated the mentality of nineteenth century historians and philosophers—and, after Darwin, of natural scientists. The great English historian, Arnold Toynbee, after World War I, made a slightly different use of the word, studying what he called (almost interchangeably) past and present Societies and Civilizations. In his view, mankind at a certain point of its evolution reached a phase of development permitting the growth of a type of social living and organization which he characterized by the word civilization. This occurred less than 10,000 years ago, and since then a number of Civilizations (or independent great Societies) have been formed, have matured and disintegrated. Toynbee gives to these Societies a quasi-organic character; and in his great work, A Study of History (London, 1934) he analyzes a process of growth and decay which he claims is to be found in each and all of these Societies or Civilizations, including our present Euro-American Society. The development of these Societies is "organic," because each of them ends in a situation with a twofold character.(1) While the Society disintegrates and its institutions break down, a "universal" type of religion is born and develops which, like the seed of a yearly plant (whose leaves fall and decay when autumn begins) becomes the spiritual foundation for a new Society. The new religious movement provides the future Society with great symbols and myths which constitute its soul—i.e. its principle of integration.

What Toynbee calls Civilizations is approximately what I mean by culture-wholes.

The idea that these culture-wholes, as they follow one another, are linked serially by a spiritual seed-harvest was developed in my booklets "Seed Ideas" written in 1928-29 and published in book form as Art as Release of Power in 1931. It had occurred to me while a student in Paris in 1912 when I wrote a book, of which only the least important section was published, Claude Debussy et le Cycle de la Civilization Musicale. I used then the word civilization in the prevailing French sense. At the same time in Germany, the German historian, Oswald Spengler, was writing his once famous book published in English under the title The Decline of the West. In this book, whose two volumes appeared in Germany in 1918 and 1920, Spengler extols the typically German concept of Kultur, and gives to the word civilization a totally negative and indeed destructive meaning. According to him, civilization is much like a disease which attacks cultures that are losing their vitality and strength because of inner conflicts and the declining power of an aristocracy whose task it is to uphold the "Prime Symbols" and great myths which ensoul the culture.

For Spengler a culture is an independent socio-spiritual organism which arises spontaneously in a particular land. It may be somewhat influenced in a superficial way by other cultures, but it is not directly apparented to any; nor will it have a socio-spiritual progeny in a future culture. The men of a culture can never be truly understood by those of another culture whenever basic issues and beliefs are discussed, for these deal with deep-rooted feeling-responses which are essentially incommunicable.

Spengler's historical picture was pessimistic, and in it our civilization—and particularly our modern big cities—appeared in a purely negative role. Perhaps this was a partly prophetic reflection, of what was to happen to Germany, and as well to our Western world and humanity as a whole. Toynbee's picture, on the other hand, was essentially optimistic, inasmuch as it was based on a belief in a progressive evolution of the basic character of human society. According to him three basic phases in this evolution can be defined: the primitive stage at a more or less tribal level; the stage in which a number of civilizations develop and decay, transferring their spiritual harvest to a progeny; and a still future stage, which he does not clearly depict, in which the whole of mankind will somehow be integrated.

This sequence is not unlike the one which Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels envisioned. According to these men writing in the middle of the 19th century, the historical development of mankind has a "dialectic" character and passes through three stages: the stage of tribal societies in which a compulsive unanimity prevails, at first under matriarchal principles of organization; a period of class-conflicts during which each of what the Hindu would call the four castes of human beings in turn predominates (warriors, clergy, merchants, proletariat); and, after the revolutionary proletariat finally has seized power, a classless society in which peace, abundance, and the happiness of all people theoretically should flourish.

Each of these historical pictures came at a time when events were calling for them. They were visions of a future which then seemed to the prophets an ideal that could be striven for. This ideal had to be formulated in quasi-messianic and millennial terms because such a formulation might bring, and indeed was intended to bring, to a clearer focus the potentialities which then had begun to be perceptible.

The ideal of civilization vs. barbarism and of a straightforward historical progress developed when the humanistic and scientific spirit inspired thinkers of the 17th and 18th centuries and made the hearts of nineteenth century scientists, sociologists, and philosophers (except Nietzsche) beat with joyous expectation—an expectation whose validity the first World War brutally challenged. The millennial expectations of Marx and Engels, wherein the "virgin masses" of workers of the world would triumph, were an answer to the horrible conditions which the Industrial Revolution had brought to the working class, an answer whose validity the Russian Revolution was to disprove, at least considering the way it worked out in a world in conflict. And Spengler's pessimism was a reaction to the trend of events in Europe and America as World War I was being ushered in. The Nazi movement may have used Spengler's ideas as an inspiration; unfortunately this led to drastic results produced by an unholy mixture of the neotribal and pagan spirit of German Kultur and the cold laboratory and industrial techniques of a dehumanized civilization-oriented mentality. Interestingly, Spengler refused to accept the rise of Hitler as that of the great Caesar-type of personage which he had announced. He thought of Hitler as a comic opera hero, and if he had not died of a heart attack in 1936, he certainly would have been sent to a concentration camp.

In contrast, Arnold Toynbee is a representative of the English character, whose indomitable spirit made his nation stand successfully against the German onslaught during World War II. But his expectations for the future are confused and biased by his Anglo-Christian tradition. Nevertheless these expectations reflect the seemingly inescapable trend toward the global organization of human society and, first of all, of big business and finance, a field in which England was the most successful pioneer.

The concept I am presenting in this book, and which I have discussed to some extent in previous writings,(2) is also an answer to our time and the deepening crisis in which all the culture-wholes of the world are now involved. This answer is founded upon principles that are implied and partially formulated in various Oriental and esoteric traditions, and more particularly in the encyclopedic, but often greatly confusing, work of H. P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine. This answer differs from the ones given by Western historians, sociologists, biologists, and most present day philosophers and scientists trained in our Euro-American universities in that it refuses to limit man's field of activity and man's consciousness to the realm of events perceived by our senses, as these are normally constituted in this period of human evolution. For modem science this realm is the only valid foundation for knowledge, and such an exclusivism is to me unacceptable.

Western archaeologists and historians painstakingly try to unearth and discover records of events; but these, and above all their interconnections, can be interpreted in many ways. Witnessing what industrialization, the development of huge cities, the flight from the land of masses of people, and an increasing vulgarization of great ideas, symbols, religious myths, and behavior had been doing to the old European culture, Oswald Spengler interpreted these factual developments as a process of decay. If we adopt his strictly cultural and aristocratic point of view, the presence of decay is evident. Such an approach extols the trinity of "blood, land and folk"; and in their own primitive and pure ways, all typical tribal societies—including the Native American tribal society—have been molded by it. The question is whether the total, and indeed the most characteristic potentialities inherent in essential human nature, can be actualized through such a cultural way of life.

The ideals such a way of life glorifies belong to the biosphere and are overtones of the deep fundamental urges and needs of the realm of "life." Can there not be another realm which does not relate to particular local conditions of race, soil, climate, natural resources—a realm which has been prefigured by the intuitions, the visions, the discoveries of great human minds reaching after universal principles, cosmic laws, and an understanding of rhythmic processes transcending the birth-growth-decay cycle of culture-wholes? Just as the vast period covered by the evolution of the entire human species on this Earth far transcends the birth-maturity-death cycles represented by the life-span of particular human organisms, can there not be a larger planetary pattern of all-human evolution within which the cyclic series of historical phenomena constituted by culture-wholes would fit, and thereby acquire a new meaning?

In fact, both the Marx-Engels' and the Toynbee concepts of human evolution introduce a broader frame of reference according to which the development of human societies takes on a quasi-dialectical character. The evolutionary picture I am presenting retains such a character if seen from a broad and holistic point of view; and it is by grasping what each of the three stages of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis represents that we can most easily understand the character of the relationship between culture-wholes and the process of civilization.

The Dialectics of Human Evolution

The stage of "thesis" is represented by human societies totally bound to the local biospheric environment where they are born and develop. At this tribal stage a society reveals an internal and psychic harmony, a unanimous consensus in all vital matters, and complete dependence upon nature. However, at this stage humans endows nature with a double character, psychic and physical. In Medieval European times this dualism was expressed by the terms natura naturans and natura naturata: the realm of psychic energies representing the active-formative aspect of life, and that of material bodies controlled by these biopsychic forces personalized as gods, nature-spirits, devas, guardian angels and so on. At this biopsychic stage of sociocultural development there are of course fights between tribes for land, water, and means of survival; but these fights parallel, at the human level, the constant struggle for survival between animal (and also vegetable) species. They have exactly the same meaning and ultimate value.

The second stage of "antitheses" in which mankind is still living today is characterized by a process of internal differentiation. It is also a process of individualization—an essentially difficult and often tragic process. These two processes begin as the results of a variety of natural causes—tribal expansion, conquest of weaker cultures, slavery, intermarriage, even climatic changes. These causes lead to important changes in the structure of tribal societies; cities and kingdoms are born. But are these changes the result of natural and social causes alone, or do they not reveal the very gradual workings of an impulse which operates as a type of purposeful activity whose character transcends that of the biosphere—a transforming, fiery activity which develops as it were, in counterpoint to the cultural process? This is the crucial question. Is there a mysterious Yang factor operating in polar opposition to the Yin factor in natural, biopsychic and harmonic development when evolving human societies reach the stage of "antithesis"? I believe there is; and this Yang factor is the process of civilization.

The next question is: what does this civilization factor seek to bring about? The basic answer is that it seeks eventually to develop in human beings their inherent potentiality of operating at a level of existence transcending that of life, as we know life in terms of biospheric conditions on this Earth.

Superphysical does not mean supermaterial or immaterial. We know today that matter is only a relatively steady form of energy, and it is rather senseless to take for granted that only one form of energy can exist, thus one type of "matter." In fact, until the Classical period of European society, every human society has firmly believed that matter does exist at a superphysical level, and that superphysical organizations of subtle types of matter can be perceived by at least some human beings who innately possess that ability or are willing to undergo specific training in order to develop it.

To repeat in a slightly different way what has already been stated: Civilization, as here defined, is a process whose purpose is to develop in human beings the capacity to operate at a life-transcending level of existence in an organized field of consciousness and activity depending for its support on a superphysical type of matter. Such an operation essentially implies the transfer of the center of consciousness and of the sense of individual identity from the biopsychic level of Earth's nature to a "higher"—because more inclusive—level which we may call, for lack of better terms, spiritual-mental.

The center of a person's consciousness and identity has to be raised to a new level; or, from another point of view, a new frame of reference for the sense of being I has to appear to the consciousness. This appearance often, but not necessarily, takes the form of an illumination which provides for the illumined mind a new perspective and therefore the capacity to interpret all the facts of human existence in a new light. In any case, if the process is to operate on a conscious, steady, and permanent basis, a strong and adequately formed mind should have been previously built. This is why civilization's first task is to build well-organized and integrated minds. Unfortunately this is a slow and difficult undertaking; and as it proceeds it tends at first to produce very disturbing, and often destructive results.

These results occur because the development of a well-organized and potentially independent mind begins in the context of a powerful system of biopsychic energies. Biological urges are intense, and as they dominate the field of the human organism in which this new mind at first weakly develops, the latter is seized upon by the biological drives—by the tremendous power of life, of which modern man today has but a most attenuated realization. The nascent new mind becomes the servant of the life-urges; it is a remarkably effective servant, but the new power it gives to these life-urges corrupts them and at the same time distorts the mind. The ownership of a slave perverts the master, who in the long run may be destroyed by his slave.

We are witnessing now, on a global scale, such a destruction of life by the products of a collective mentality, either at the service of biopsychic urges and passions, or at least unable to free itself from the conditioning they produce. The principal way in which this collective mind of Western mankind has been able to seemingly free itself has been by escaping into a realm of intellectual abstractions in which all that belongs to the life-field is denied importance and even reality. Another way has been religious asceticism.

Denial, however, is not a valid solution. Saying that a diseased life-condition does not exist at all is not a sound way of restoring health. It pushes back the biological reality into the unconscious depths where it may fester and poison the roots of consciousness. The development of a new level of mind-activity should enlarge the consciousness so that it becomes able to encompass both the anabolic and catabolic manifestations of life in physical nature, and those of the transcendent level. In other words, the basic problem is how to establish an adequate and valid relationship between what in us belongs to life and what is developing as a potentially independent factor in our total field of existence—a mind able to operate according to its own rhythm and purpose. There are, however, several levels, or realms, of mind activity; and the recently formulated concept of noosphere is much too simplistic and undifferentiated as understood by the majority of the people using it as a basis. We should rather say that, just as several kingdoms of life exist in the biosphere, several types of mental processes operate in the noosphere. A symbolic kind of correspondence between the biospheric and noospheric levels of activity may help us to better understand the character of the different kinds of mind-processes which man today can experience.

There are in the Earth's biosphere three basic modes of existence: mineral, vegetable, and animal. Organic life results from the harmonic and hierarchical interactions of the activities related to each of these levels. Plants are composed of chemical substances which they raise to the level of biological integration within specific and generic forms of life and consciousness. Animals feed on plants and breathe the atmosphere which the vegetable kingdom has generated; and animals help the fertilization of plants and the spread of seeds.

The mineral kingdom reaches a special state of existence in the crystal. In a somewhat analogical sense humanity, at the strictly biological-tribal level, occupies the place of the crystal, for at that level humans brings the tremendous life-energy and the mobility of the animal kingdom to a perfectly formed state in which cosmic harmony is reflected in material art-forms and even in the building of villages. Some cultural objects have a "sacred" character because they are felt to act as means of communication between the psychic-cosmic realm of life-gods and the human-tribal sphere of existence.

Human beings can also become sacralized and mediums for the transmission of vital messages. They can be consecrated or offered in sacrifice to tribal gods who symbolize and personify various aspects of the great power of life. Every event can be given a symbolic and revelatory character by the mind which, crystal-like, reflects the light of divine intent and purpose. As higher overtones of cultural activity and consciousness are sounded, this capacity for reflecting the light of divine Beings takes the form of what we now call devotion or bhakti. But when that devotion not only reflects, but uses for collective purpose the supreme power of the highest psychic realm—light—the devotee has reached a state corresponding to the vegetable state; because as we know, plants capture sunlight and transform it into potential food for the animal kingdom, while also releasing oxygen for animal breathing.

In the animal kingdom, life becomes free motion, and emotion. The rudiments of intelligence and of the abilities to produce tools and to construct useful structures develop, and definitely social patterns of behavior prefigure the rise of the primitive types of human culture. What the animal kingdom brought to the biosphere parallels and symbolizes what occurred when a type of mind appeared which gave rise in humans to the individualized experience of "I am" and to the urge to reach beyond the essentially passive reflectivity of the strictly biopsychic cultural mentality.

This emergence of the I-am consciousness has been considered by most ancient traditions to be a supreme, even if potentially tragic gift to mankind, a gift involving a great sacrifice performed by a divine or semi-divine being. In Greek mythology this is the Promethean gift for which the giver had to suffer ever-renewed tortures. When Prometheus, out of compassion for animal-like and earthbound human beings, gave them the fire of the gods which he had stolen from heaven, he incurred the wrath of Zeus, the Sky god, who chained him to a peak of the Caucasus mountain range and had a vulture repeatedly tear open his breast and devour his liver. As soon as this was done, the liver grew again, and once more, cycle after cycle, the vulture fed on it.

The symbolism of the myth should be clear: in ancient Mediterranean cultures the liver was considered the location of the life-force and the vulture is the symbol of the death process. Thus Prometheus, who gave to mankind the possibility of transcending the animal compulsions of the realm of life and, as we shall presently see, of achieving a superphysical kind of at least relative immortality, has to expiate for his compassionate deed by having his own life-center endlessly torn, rebuilt, and torn again by the bird of death. He who wishes to transcend life must accept the possibility of tragedy in some form; and whoever incites and teaches men how to proceed to the path of life-transcending metamorphosis makes an enemy of the god of life. In Greek mythology, Jupiter symbolizes an already culturalized and socialized aspect of life, but in Hebrew Genesis, the god who gives to man the "breath of life," (after which Adam "became a living soul" [2:7]) is most definitely the ruler of the biosphere. This is the realm in which all living organisms, and (in their original character) all culture-wholes, are born, unfold their biopsychic powers, and die. This Hebrew god is the Tetragrammaton, the sacred four-letter word, Jod-He-Vau-He, once translated as Jehovah and now as Yahweh.

This god of life and of all tribal cultures, worshipped under the many names which each culture has given him, appears in Genesis only at the second chapter. He is "Yahweh Elohim"—only one of the Elohim, as Elohim is a plural noun. On the other hand, the creative process depicted in the first chapter of Genesis should be understood as referring to creation at the level of archetypes. The second chapter deals with the creative process only as it operates at the physical level of the biosphere, and particularly with reference to mankind.(3) Archetypally man is essentially different from animals, because, as male-female, he is "created" within the divine Mind in the image and likeness of the entire Elohim Host—the spiritual-cosmic Seed of a previous cosmic cycle (or in Sanskrit a manvantara). The archetypal potentiality of being Godlike is inherent in archetypal Anthropos; but the Yahweh aspect of the creative God that dominates the cultural evolution of mankind, until another aspect reveals itself to Moses in the Burning Bush, is only able to give to natural man the power of life. It is not concerned with the power of free and responsible individual selfhood.

This is not a new concept, as it can be found in all Gnostic and Alchemical traditions. These also point out that the "first Adam" was neither male nor female. "Its" consciousness but passively reflected the harmony of Edenic life; even if it was intuitively able to "name" (i.e. to sense the innermost character of) animal species. The formation of Eve was necessary in order to actualize the archetypal potentiality of Humanity mentioned in the first chapter of Genesis (1:26-27)—the potentiality of developing a consciousness which, through the experience of duality (which includes sexual polarization), could learn to transcend dualism and the conflicts it generates, and to consciously and deliberately enter the realm of divine unity.

Life is rooted in unity, however differentiated its multiple aspects; but the only kind of consciousness which life of itself is able to produce can only passively reflect that unity. What most people, clergymen included, seem to have forgotten is that at the center of the Garden of Eden two trees stood: the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The god of the biosphere, Yahweh, tried to frighten Adam from the latter by telling him that by eating of its fruit he "would surely die." What this means is obvious: the dualism of Good and Evil is reflected in the dualism of living and dying—of anabolic and catabolic activity. Nevertheless a positive, individualized, and responsible type of knowledge can develop only when both the constructive and destructive consequences of any activity are lucidly and fearlessly considered. The essential character of living can be known only through the conscious experience of death.(4)

The living-dying process is cyclic, and thus is symbolized by a serpentine and sinusoidal motion. The knowledge of cycles is a knowledge of the constant interaction of two opposite and complementary principles, which Chinese philosophy named Yang and Yin. The Tao consciousness is nondual; yet it can be attained only through the full experience of duality. This means the experience of relationship and mutuality. Where there is self, there must also be a not-self—the outside world, and in a concentrated form, the Beloved or the Adversary. The fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is the consciousness of relationship; and this means all relationships and not merely sex-relationship, though sexualization provides a most characteristic field for what relationship at its deepest level implies.

The two trees at the center of the Garden of Eden symbolize the two levels at which humans can operate: the level of life and culture, and the level of civilization based on knowledge acquired by a mind able to deal with the constructive and destructive aspects of existence. The crucial question is how that mind deals with relationship. Any relationship—thus any interaction between self and not-self, and between "I" and "the Other"—can either be given a positive, integrating character or approached with the fear and insecurity which are the twin roots of war, hatred, and indeed of all evils. Civilization is a process based on relationship. How individuals and collectivities approach, face, interpret, and resolve the problems engendered by relationship determines the character which this process will have.

The animal lives in a biosphere where "eat or be eaten" is the basic, impersonal, accepted law. Man, as he comes to a point in his collective evolution at which he is impelled, by inner growth as well as by outer sociocultural developments, to individualize his consciousness, is faced by the alternatives "love or hate." He can choose. As humanity collectively and individually chooses, so civilization develops as a blessing or a curse. It can be a little of both at the same time, yet one polarity must prevail.

During the yearly cycle either the day or the night must be longer, except at the "magical" moments of supreme choice, the two equinoxes, when day and night are equal; but even then, at the spring equinox the basic momentum is toward more daylight, while at the fall equinox the trend toward an increase of darkness is inescapable. The two equinoxes are polarized in opposite ways. Autumn must bring the decay of vegetation. It brings also the fall of the seed into the humus pungent with the scent of disintegration. Cycle after cycle a time comes in the development of culture-wholes when the increasing inner emptiness and outer rigidity of its "Prime Symbols," having become institutionalized, are revealed. Then the process of civilization overcomes the organic biopsychic character of the culture. At such times, whether or not they are aware of this compulsive fact, the people of the culture-whole are forced to face a crucial symbolic choice: to disintegrate with the leaves, or to participate in the formation of seeds, foundations of a future cycle of vegetation—a cycle that will begin with their ritual death, germination.

What is always at stake is the quality of all human relationships and the character of one's allegiance. It is what mankind—and every individual able to envision the possibilities open to him or her by the Promethean gift of the fire of selfhood and responsibility—will do with that ambivalent gift and its inherent potentialities. Today, more than ever, the state of conscious individualized existence may mean alienation from the universe, the inability to enter into and maintain meaningful relationships, tragic isolation, and a frightened regression to the law of the biosphere, "eat or be eaten," which at the level of the mind and of civilization becomes not only internalized, but far more cruel and implacable. It may also mean the attainment of supreme and all-encompassing consciousness through a mind that, because it fully accepts relationship, is illumined by a love relating all opposites and contradictions to a universal and all-inclusive principle of Harmony—a love within which all colors experience their multifarious essence in white light.

Civilization may lead to the megalopolis (the Biblical Babylon) where cultural values are vulgarized, poisoned by greed, fear and loneliness, and where the jungle-existence of tenements borders the pompous yet vacuous displays of "the beautiful people" with empty souls. But the process of civilization could also lead to the Holy City, the New Jerusalem "descended from heaven"—the world of divine Archetypes and universal Principles of Order and all-encompassing Harmony: two alternatives and one essential human choice, ever repeated through the myriad of opportunities for relationship that living in the biosphere presents to us all, human beings touched by the fire of individualized consciousness.

The old myth states that Prometheus, chained on the Caucasus mountain, can and will be released from his torture. He can be released only by Christ-like individuals and Bodhisattvas whose universal, impersonal, nonpossessive and redeeming love offers the one and only way to overcome the catabolic and tragic aspects of civilization.

This love does not deny life. It transmutes its energies and transubstantiates its physical basis. By so doing, it establishes a harmonic relationship between "life" and "mind"—between culture and civilization—by accepting both, yet not being attached to and compelled by the rhythms of either one. This universal love allows the power of a divine Will and of universalistic forms of existence (Archetypes) to manifest through the mind and to fecundate a matter which then begins to assume a superphysical character.

Such a form of matter has been called "astral"; but today this word has been misused and its meaning debased, and there may be value in using the Sanskrit term, akasha, though it too is being materialized by pseudo-occultists and self-styled clairvoyants claiming to be able to read "akashic records." Astral means "of the nature of the stars," and the realm of stars symbolizes for man the possibility of existence of radiant forms of consciousness and organized fields of energy in which the principle of universal Harmony is manifested in its many aspects. When at long last this principle operates in man, what was a tyrannical ego-master swayed by biologic, emotional, and sociocultural impulses, becomes a gradually more perfectly formed and translucent lens of pure crystal through which divine Light radiates upon an Earth whose materiality has become transfigured, as Jesus' body is said to have become transfigured when the Christ-spirit pervaded his total being on the Mount of Transfiguration.

This is the stage of "synthesis" in the dialectical process, not only of human but of planetary evolution. It is that stage which Teilhard de Chardin envisioned and formulated in terms of his Catholic background as the Omega state. At critical times in the history of a culture-whole, men dream of it as an approaching millennium. They do not seem to understand that it can occur only when they themselves have transcended the bondage of biological drives and intellectual ideologies—of emotional passions, dogmas of both science and religion, and of the craving of their egos for the joys and sorrows of separate individual existences.

Civilization is a means for man's liberation from biopsychic bondage to the narrow boundaries of a land-based, traditional culture, which determines his basic emotional responses and his collective moves; but liberation and freedom have only the meaning which the kind of use man makes of them determines. In themselves they have no meaning. Civilization is a means to an end. It is a process; not a fixed state or a consummation. The end is beyond both culture and civilization.

At the close of his great work, The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo attempted to make us participate in his epic millennial vision of what he called the Gnostic Society. Over forty years ago, in a large unpublished book, I sought to base on a total picture of human and cosmic evolution the expectations for a future "Age of Plenitude" that would succeed our present "Age of Conflicts". More recently, in my book The Sun is also a Star (Dutton, N.Y. 1975), I have spoken of "the Galactic Community" prefigured in the theosophical concept of the White Lodge, the spiritual seed harvest of humanity. These may be dreams, yet in some sense and at some level, they must be realities—existential realities. The future does polarize the past. It draws to itself whatever, in the ever-altered present moment, strives however uncertainly to discover a guiding star by which to orient and consciously direct its efforts. It is the direction that is important, not the star itself.

Once on the path cut through the jungles of the biosphere, mankind may well rest, sing and dance on the fertile banks of great rivers, but the Promethean imperative will ineluctably seize new generations; and if the cities which men have built on the river banks have become monstrous cancerous growths, many will die—so that a few may live and continue the cyclic journey toward whatever culmination of human achievement is possible upon, or even beyond, our Earth.

What is most important for us, today, is to know, clearly and unequivocally, where we stand, individually and collectively. It is consciously to assess the value of what we so long have taken for granted in passive, uninspired worship. It is to realize what point in the cyclic relationship of culture and civilization we have reached, so that we may be able to understand how to use the mind which civilization has built for us in a manner that may open a way toward the formation of a new and more inclusive culture, even while the end-products of the cultures of the past slowly disintegrate under "autumnal" skies.

1. On pages 209 and 210 of the Abridgement of A Study of History (Oxford University Press, 1947) Toynbee discusses the two "stock answers" to the question of "the relation in which societies and individuals stand to each other." One of the answers is' that the individual is a reality which is capable of existing and of being apprehended by itself and that a society is nothing but an aggregate of atomic individuals. The other is that the reality is the society; that a society is a perfect and intelligible whole, while the individual is simply a part of this whole which cannot exist or be conceived as existing in any other capacity or setting." And he finds that "neither of these views will bear examination." He dismisses the "atomic way of life" attributed by Homer to the Cyclops on the basis that "in fact no human beings have ever lived Cyclops-fashion, for man is essentially a social animal inasmuch as social life is a condition which the evolution of man out of sub-man presupposes and without which that evolution could not possibly have taken shape." Toynbee rejects also Oswald Spengler's concept of Kultur (a term which he translates as "civilization" thereby missing an essential point) as an organic form born out of the formless primitive psychic conditions of an undifferentiated humanity, as a mighty soul which comes to flower on the soil of a country with precise boundaries, to which it remains attached like a plant. He rejects this "organic" concept as he dismisses as "myth-making or fictional infirmity of the historical mind . . . the tendency to personify and label groups or institutions—'Britain,' 'France,' 'the Church,' 'the Press' . . . and so on—and to treat these abstractions as persons." He adds that "it is sufficiently evident that the representation of a society as a personality or organism offers us no adequate expression of the society's relation to its individual members" (p. 211). He sees a society as "the product of the relations between individuals, and these relations of theirs arise from the coincidence of their individual fields of action. This coincidence combines the individual fields into a common ground, and this common ground is what we call society ... Society is a 'field of action' but the source of all action is in the individuals composing it."

We shall return to the relationship between individuals and their society in a later chapter, but it seemed valuable to point out early in this book what I shall call the Myth of the Individual—the individual person considered as a starting point, a source from which creative activity flows. The Creative individual of course is a source, as the French philosopher Bergson indicated in a passage quoted by Toynbee in support of his ideas. But while the source is the starting point of a river, the water flows through it rather than from it. This water in most cases comes from an underground reservoir, lake, or water-table. The source and the river constitute only specific phases of the vast planetary cycle of water—ocean, clouds, rain, underground water, source, river, and ocean.

Toynbee, Bergson, and the personalist Ian Smuts (whose book Holism and Evolution popularized the words holism and holistic, yet is hardly ever mentioned by the persons now using those terms) are modern exponents of the type of empirical and rationalistic individualism characterizing European culture and leading to the glorification of the genius--or of a "creative minority"—in a personal sense. In the approach I am presenting here, the creative person—whether individual or collective (as an "aristocracy")—is understood to be a source through which the answer to an existential human need given by a metabiological and transpersonal Power (in whatever way it is precisely conceived) takes a focused and formed external manifestation. That answer-releasing and activity-inspiring Power is not an abstraction; nor is it a personification. It is the very real spiritually fecundating principle at work in the process of planetary and human evolution. Humanity itself, in its global totality, is an "organ" of the planet Earth, which in turn belongs to the solar system (the "heliocosm"), itself but one small constituent in the immense cosmic cell, our Galaxy.

This is the holistic view of the universe and of Anthropos (Man). A "holarchic" principle infuses all experience. The universe is a hierarchy of wholes, of structured systems or fields of activity, operating at several levels. Before such a world-picture the naive classical Greco-European concept of "the individual" pales into insignificance. It reflects the empiricism of a Renaissance, reacting violently against the rationalism of the Scholastics, and the dogmatic exclusivism of the medieval Church whose real character was revealed by the Papacy's dependence upon military force and by the Inquisition.

There is nevertheless a sense in which Toynbee and his supporters are right in denying to a human society or culture the character of an "organism." A living organism originates in one single cell—a seed or a fecundated ovum. The organism develops through mitosis—the process of division of each cell into two new ones. Thus each of the billions of cells of a human body is directly related to the one original ovum in the mother's womb. This biological process of self-multiplication operates at the level of physical matter.

It is quite evident that a society does not develop in such a manner, in spite of the Adam-Eve myth according to which all human beings would have a common ancestry. Yet it is also clear that the members of a tribe, operating within a fairly narrow environment and increasing in size through intermarriage and the conquest of other tribes, come to have common genetic characteristics as well as common social features derived from common experiences in that special environment. Moreover, from my point of view, it is the culture-whole, rather than the group of socially related human bodies, which constitute an organic field of activity; and at the root of this culture-whole—that is, of a complex system of symbols, ideas, feeling-responses, and institutions—we could find one and usually two fundamental psychospiritual impulses which act as "parents" of the culture.

One can of course insist that the word, organism, should be kept to characterize physical organizations of cells issued from two male-female parental cells.

One could object to the vitalistic use of terms such as "the One Life" when referring to the dualistic Yin-Yang principle animating or ensouling the entire cosmos. Yet when science tends to accept the "Big Bang theory" to account for the origin and development of the universe, it does not seem too far-fetched to think of this universe as an "organism" originating in one sudden release of energy-substance. I therefore am using the term organism to mean a structurally self-regulating system of interrelated and interdependent activities operating at any level.    Return

2. cf. particularly Modern Man's Conflicts: The Creative Challenge of a Global Society (Philosophical Library, N.Y. 1948, but written in 1945-46 and before that in my book, Art as Release of Power (1928-29) the chapters "the Cycle of Culture and Sacrifice" and "The Individual and the Work of Civilization"; also several essays (particularly Toward the Unanimistic State) and the unpublished large volume The Age of Plenitude (1941-42).  Return

3. Biblical scholars explain what superficially seems to be two "Creation myths" by saying that each came from a different cultural-religious background. Such an explanation satisfies the empirical and factual approach dogmatically pursued by our factories of data-processing which we call institutions of learning. It is of no real importance when one tries to uncover the meaning of human existence and evolution. It is such a meaning that the Sacred Books of any culture "re-veal," presenting it "under the veil" of myths essentializing the existential historical facts. Events of themselves are meaningless. We give them meaning by establishing relationships in depth between them. A myth is a series of deliberately interrelated facts, which, in their holistic coherence and "organicity" evoke in the open and ready mind a complex and basically trans-formative meaning. This meaning satisfies a vital emotional or intellectual need.

The first two chapters of Genesis, as all occultists should know, reveal their meaning through a consideration of the Kabalistic values of letters of the Hebrew alphabet and of their combinations in words whose significance differs according to the level at which they are read and understood. This is a highly complex study, and Kabalistic interpretations may greatly differ in substance, though based on the same principles. In my book Fire Out of the Stone: A Reinterpretation of the Basic Images of the Christian Tradition (Servire Publications, Wassenaar, 1963; now free online.), and in the chapter "Creation and Evolution" I discussed at length the relation between the two stories narrated in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. The first chapter tells us about what occurs at the level of organization of creative thought in the mind of the Creator. When the creative process being considered refers to the creation of a cosmos by the Divine Mind, what is spoken of are Archetypes, or we might say "models" defining the essential proportions and qualities of the factors of which the evolving concrete and physical universe will become a gradually more perfect manifestation.

A "creation in mind" always, consciously or not, precedes a "creation in life." The latter reflects perfectly in theory, but in practice only embodies more or less accurately, the elements of the former. The second chapter of Genesis refers solely to the creative process as it occurs within the Earth's biosphere. This process operates at a material biological level; it deals with the "dust of the ground" and the "breath of life" which Yahweh breathes into man's nostrils. Man becomes a living soul; but as such he is only a passive reflection of divine Nature, which at that level is Life itself. Yahweh is the god of Life, ruling over all biopsychic processes.

In the center of the Garden of Eden two trees grow, the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. By partaking of the fruit of the latter, Man, who by that time has become the dualistic entity Adam-Eve (or more significantly Ish-Isha), enters the world of existential duality—the world of choice between alternatives and of personal responsibility. He-she are on their way to the state of individuality, later symbolized in its absolute supercosmic aspect as I AM THAT I AM, the Name of the Creative Principle operating at the level of personality-integration and (in Jungian terms) of individuation.   Return

4. The original end-purpose of yoga and the deeper goal of the martial arts in China and Japan—in which the student of higher grades must be choked to death, then revived by his master-teacher—were to experience death and return to the body with a consciousness transformed by such an experience. In my opinion at least, Hindu yoga developed out of the experiences of the "Forest philosophers" of the early Upanishads period. According to the life-system codified in the Laws of Manu, during the last of the four stages of his life-span, the man of higher caste retired in the woods surrounding his village and, by detaching his consciousness from all the biological personal and social activities and interests to which he had been attached in the performance of his dharma, prepared himself for the transition into a transcendent metabiological and supercultural state which we know as "death." Eventually after a long period of nonmanifestation and absorption into the universal ocean of being, the unfinished business (karma) of the preceding life would reactivate the Soul-entity and impel it into a new body.

It must have occurred to some of the Forest-philosophers that, if through death, they could experience the transcendent after-death state of consciousness, and then return at once to the same formed body and its mature mental faculties, a step of tremendous significance would have been made, throwing a new supersensual light upon human existence; and that light would revolutionize philosophy, psychology and, in fact, the whole of man's culture. To this end the idea of pranayama, which literally means "the death (or suspension) of the breath," was developed into a definite and graduated practice; it was based on the archaic belief that the breath is the essential spiritual factor—the animating principle—in all living entities. The ability to experience states beyond the death-transition led to the realization of a condition of nonduality (a-dwaita; not-dual) transcending the level of life and all modes of existence based on the interaction of two polar principles.   Return

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