Personified Vs. Impersonal
Fortunately, as human beings, we are all unique, with our own sensitivities, talents, and temperaments.
Some of us are more visual, yet others are auditory, and still others are more sensitive and receptive to touchy-feely stimuli. Some of us are more analytical, yet others are more emotional, and still others are perhaps more abstract and artistic.
The reality is that none of us are either this or that or the other. In our actual existence, each one of us is a combination of all of these. Some are more visual than others, some more auditory. But also as individuals, some are more visual than they are auditory, and so on...
What's more, none of us are constant in our sensitivities, talents and temperament. In our younger days we may be more emotional, as we grow older we may become more analytical, and still at other times in our life, we may be more abstract... or any other order of the above.
Not only that, our outlook on and experience of life varies from individual to individual, and from one time and circumstance to another.
We may all listen to Beethoven's No. 5 symphony... and we may even all feel and experience the genius of this masterful creation. But how we project it, how we discuss it, and how we relate to it, varies from one person to the next.
One may admire the genius of Beethoven and his ability to even create such a piece. Another may be in awe of Beethoven's receptivity of inspiration, and his ability to translate that into actual music. Yet a third may ponder on the fact that Beethoven felt music, saw music, imagined music, and experienced music with every fiber of his being, even though he was deaf in his later years.
At the other extreme, one may see Beethoven as merely a vessel or vehicle to bring this piece of genius not into existence, but into our reality and life. They may experience the symphony quite separate from Beethoven... almost as if this musical masterpiece was floating in ether or space, looking for a way of to come to physical reality... as if the music had a soul and existence of its own, looking for a musical womb to give it birth, and ever since has gone through its own growth and variations as well as off-springs.
In discussing these various perspectives, it becomes apparent that they are variations on a theme, or if you will, sensitivities in relating to a single existence and experience... or if we go to the very abstract, they become a representation of various ways of relating to a piece or aspect of divinity.
And so it is with our spirituality. Some of us are more receptive and responsive to relating to the divine in more abstract terms, yet others could understand and relate better if the divine could be seen through more concrete and touchable ways.
We create symbols to express our relationship with the divine. Light, nature, a star, a cross, a rock, a statue, a person, or even grandfather buffalo are ways of connecting the physical and spiritual aspects of our lives. We give them the talismanic powers to become the focal point of our attention, whenever we wish to meditate on or relate to the divinity in our lives.
Others of us with more abstract tendencies and sensitivities make the focal point of our soul-attention into something untouchable. A spirit, a prayer, a commandment, a way of chanting, the performance of a ritual, a meditation take the focal point and acquire the talismanic power.
Again, in actuality, we find that none of us are this, that or the other. In our everyday reality, we are generally a flux, a dynamic and somewhat chaotic mixture of all of the above. Often many aspects take some part in our relationship with the divine. Yet at other times, one aspect may become the dominant one, overshadowing all other aspects in such a relationship.
A Buddhist monk who is in his daily meditation, chanting and reaching that self-less state of awareness, will simply have very little room in his consciousness for the divine representation in any form other than the formless.
A Moslem pilgrim in Mecca, circling the House of God seven times, has no room in his awareness for anything other than the center of his circles. He is the symbolic representation of the physical revolving around the spiritual, or if you will, the divine being the timeless, projects the temporal life in the circularity of space.
The Jewish pilgrim in front of the Wailing Wall too is in a state of selfless awareness that overshadows all other aspects of the divine in existence. Likewise, the Christian Monk, focusing on the Cross, awaiting the Savior in the form of the person of Christ, or meditating upon Jesus the Christ as the Son of God, has no room for anything other than the Holy Spirit.
So, as we see, it is not the divinity that is at fault. It is not even our sensitivities and temperaments. The divine has manifested in the physical, in a multitude of variations... to be able to relate to itself in a multitude of ways. It is neither the source nor the manifestation that is divine. It is the relationship that makes everything, including itself, divine.
The breakdown comes when in our single-minded devotion; we give collective talismanic powers to the relationship, which befits our own sensitivities most. It is our insistence that "what I experience is the only way to experience divinity" which creates breakdowns. Our single-mindedness becomes hard-headedness. Our insistence becomes our religion and dogma, and our talismanic symbolism becomes our idol.
God is neither personified, nor impersonal. God is neither everything, nor nothing. God is not even divine. God is merely a word, a symbol or representation. God is a notion. And our insistence on this notion is what diminishes the divinity that permeates life and existence.
We, together with every animate and inanimate being, become God's manifestations... pieces of the timeless and formless in time and space, projections of what can be into what is. Anything else is limiting.
Going back to the individualized variations, if I am more sensitive towards the abstract and impersonal, not only I experience the divine in abstract terms such as awe and beauty and goodness and order, but also experience its lack in the abstract form too. Evil for me takes the form of ignorance and fear and misguided choices.
On the other hand, if I am more sensitive to the personified experience of the divine, I see beauty and awe and love and goodness and order as the manifestations, the out-flowing, the gifts of God the Father, the Buddha, or the Master. Likewise, I would project the absence of God's gifts as the outcome of the works of the personified evil maker, find a source of the manifestation and call it Satan, Ebliess, Devil, anti-Christ, or by any other of its names.
Similarly, in the impersonal expression, I see others as individuals who then become the fountainhead of Good and Evil choices. I will consider some as wiser, more whole and conscious, and others as afraid, divided and lost.... yet in the personified temperament, I shall see individuals as good or evil, siding with God or the Devil, and their actions and choices as the natural outcome of their innate nature. I will consider some to be more holy and saintly, and others as cunning and wicked.
Ironically, it is not our sensitivities that make us imprisoned to our states of experiencing life. It is our unwillingness to admit and allow for variation in the sensitivities of others. Every time we invalidate another's sensitivities, we have created an enemy in our minds, and limited our own way of being. Ultimately, we become victims of our own intolerance. If we cannot tolerate others' way of being, we cannot make room for our interactions with them... and we cut them out of our lives.
Far from rejecting the variety, when we try to see the world through others' eyes, we find out that it is exactly the individuality of the multitudes that validates the experience of relating to the Divine, or any aspect of it, be it the genius flowing through Beethoven's No. 5, or the awe of nature through scientific understanding of the complexity stemming from the simplicity, or merely the awe of nature in its beauty, nurturance and ferocity, or the selfless experience of meditating upon the divine.
Again, at the risk of repeating myself, it is not the rock or the cross or the person or the light that is divine. It is our relationship with these symbols that is divine. And as such, anything that we can make the focal point of our attention and give it the same talismanic powers, has no option but to give us the spiritual experience of relating to the divine. From this perspective, personified or impersonal become merely the means, a sensitivity, or a preference, and no more.
What matters is not how we perceive the divine. What is important is the fact that we do have a perception, or at least focus our energies and attempt to form a relationship with the divine. Because what works, works; and what is, is; and they are quite independent of each other.
© Shahriar Shahriari
Los Angeles, CA
May 17, 2001
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