Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation homepage > Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Perspectives > Chapter 26: World-Idea


Whatever we call it, most people feel--whether vaguely or strongly--that there must be a God and that there must be something which God has in view in letting the universe come into existence. This purpose I call the World-Idea, because to me God is the World's Mind. This is a thrilling conception. It was an ancient revelation which came to the first cultures, the first civilizations, of any importance, as it has come to all others which have appeared, and it is still coming today to our own. With this knowledge, deeply absorbed and properly applied, man comes into harmonious alignment with his Source.

All spiritual study is incomplete if it ignores the facts, truths, laws, and principles of cosmogony. To attempt to justify this neglect with the accusation that they belong to the world of illusion is silly and useless. For the accuser must still continue to live in an illusory body and use an illusory self governed by those laws. After every such attempt and for each violation of those laws--upon which the order and harmony of the universe depend--which his neglect brings about, he must pay the penalty in suffering.

When we gaze observantly and reflectively around an object--whether it be a microscope-revealed cell or a telescope-revealed star--it inescapably imposes upon us the comprehension that an infinite intelligence rules this wonderful cosmos. The purposive way in which the universe is organized betrays, if it be anything at all, the working of a Mind which understands.

To recognize that the order of the cosmos is superbly intelligent beyond human invention, mysterious beyond human understanding, and even divinely holy is not to lapse into being sentimental. It is to accept the transcendence and self-sufficiency of THAT WHICH IS.

He comes to see the whole cosmos as a manifestation of the Supreme Being. It follows that involuntarily, spontaneously, he brings himself--mind and body, heart and will--into harmony with this view.

The cosmic order is divine intelligence expressed, equilibrium sought through contrasts and complementaries, the One Base multiplying itself in countless forms, the Supreme will established according to higher laws. The World-Mind is hidden deep within our individual minds. The World-Idea begets all our knowledge. Whoever seeks aright finds the sacred stillness inside and the sacred activity in the universe.

The World-Idea provides secret invisible patterns for all things that have come into existence. These are not necessarily the forms that our limited perceptions present to us but the forms that are ultimate in God's Will.

It is a paradox of the World-Idea that it is at once a rigid pattern and, within that pattern, a latent source of indeterminate possibilities. This seems impossible to human minds, but it would not be the soul of a divine order if it were merely mechanical.

At the centre of each man, each animal, each plant, each cell, and each atom, there is a complete stillness. A seemingly empty stillness, yet it holds the divine energies and the divine Idea for that thing.

What they may expect to find with intellect is at most the slow uncovering of little fragments of the World-Idea: but with intuition the subtler meanings and larger patterns are possible. These include but also transcend the physical plane. A few fated persons, whose mission is revelation, are granted once in a lifetime the Cosmic Vision.

The World-Idea is perfect. How could it be otherwise since it is God's Idea? If we fail to become a co-worker with it, nothing of this perfection will be lost. If we do, we add nothing to it.

The goal of life is to be consciously united with Life.

The World-Idea's end is foreordained from the beginning. This leaves no ultimate personal choice. But there's a measure of free will in a single direction--how soon or how late that divine end is accomplished. The time element has not been ordered, the direction has.

The management of human affairs, the values of human society, and the operations of human faculties are basic influences which necessarily shape human ideas or beliefs about divine existence which, being on a totally different and transcendental level of experience, does not correspond to those concepts. The biggest of these mistakes is about the world's creation. A picture or plan is supposed to arise in the Divine Mind and then the Divine Will operates on something called Matter (or, with more up-to-date human knowledge, called Energy) to fashion the world and its inhabitants. In short, first the thought, then, by stages, the thing is brought into existence. A potter works like this on clay, but his mind and power are not transcendental. The Divine Mind is its own substance and its own energy; its thoughts are creative of these things. Not only so but the number of universes possible is infinite. Not only this, but they are infinitely different, as though infinite self-expression were being sought. The human understanding may reel at the idea, but creation has never had a beginning nor an end: it is eternal. Nor can it ever come to an end (despite rhythmic intervals of pause), for the Infinite Being can never express itself fully in a finite number of these forms of expression.

Two points should be clearly understood. First, the world of external Nature, being eternal, is not brought into existence by an act of sudden creation out of nothing. Second, this world is rooted in the divine substance and is consequently not an empty illusion but an indirect manifestation of divine reality.

We may call it evolution if we wish but the actuality is not quite the same. The universe is being guided to follow the World-Idea--this is the essence of what is happening.

We reject all theories of the Divine Principle having a self-benefiting purpose--such as to know Itself or to get rid of its loneliness--in manifesting the cosmos. It is the Perfect and needs nothing. The cosmos arises of itself under an inherent law of necessity, and the evolution of all entities therein is to enable them to reflect something of the Divine; it is for their sake, not for the Divine's, that they exist.

To say that man is unconsciously seeking God, or rather his Higher Self, is the truth. To say that God is seeking man is an error based upon a truth. This truth is that in the divine idea of the universe, the evolutionary development of life-cells will bring them slowly up to an awareness of the diviner level; but the Higher Self, having no desire and no emotions, cannot be said to be seeking anything. Indeed, the evolutionary pattern being what it is, there is no need for it to seek, as the development of all beings from primitive amoeba to perfect spiritual consciousness is assured.

Jung's archetypes, as far as I know his thought (and I am not a student of much of it), apply to the unconscious of the human being. The archetypes of the World-Idea, if you wish to call them that, apply universally and are not concerned with the human species alone.

What is the universe but a gigantic symbol of God? Its infinite variety hints at the infinite endlessness of the Absolute itself.

It is not only man that is made in the image of God: the whole universe likewise is also an image of God. It is not only by coming to know himself that man discovers the divine life hidden deep in his heart: it is also by listening in the stillness of Nature to what she is forever declaring, that he discovers the presence of an infinite World-Mind.

If Nature keeps her lips inexorably shut to the questions of those who abuse her, she graciously opens them in perfect response to those who ask with a quieted, co-operative and harmonious ego.

Human beings have made too much fuss about themselves, their own importance in the cosmic scale. Why should there not be other forms of life superior to them, conscious intelligent beings higher in mentality, character, and spiritual knowledge, better equipped with powers and techniques?

There are beings not subject to the same laws as those governing mankind's physical existence. They are normally not visible to men. They are gods.

The Gods are both symbols of particular forces and beings dwelling on higher planes.

The inhabitants of each planet belong to different stages of evolution: some higher and some lower. This applies not only to the human inhabitants but also to the animal and even the plant inhabitants. They pass in great waves from one planet to another at certain stages of this evolution, going where they can find the most appropriate conditions either for expression of their present stage or for the stimulation of their next immediate stage. Consequently the stragglers and laggards who fall behind pass to a planet where the conditions are of a lower nature, for there they are more at home. On the other hand, the pioneers who have outstripped the mass and can find no conditions suitable for their further development pass to a planet in a higher stage.

These three cosmic forces--Attraction, Repulsion, and Rest--constitute the triune manifestation of the World-Idea. You will find them in every department of existence.

There is no stability anywhere but only the show of it. Whether it be a man's fortunes or a mountain's surface, everything is evanescent. Only the rate of this evanescence differs but the fact of it does not.

Energy radiates, whether in the form of continuous waves or disconnected particles--"moment to moment" Buddha called it. It is this cosmic radiation which becomes "matter."

The idea of human perfection would mean the attainment of a static condition, but nowhere in nature do we find such condition. Everything, as Buddha pointed out, is in a state of becoming, or as Krishnamurti number two calls it: Reality is motion. Buddha never denied that there was anything beyond becoming. He simply refused to discuss the possibility, whereas persons like Krishnamurti two stop there and affirm it as being the ultimate. There were very good reasons why Buddha refused. He was living in a country where the intelligentsia were lost in fruitless and impractical speculations, and where the emotional were lost in religion, endlessly ritualized and filled with superstition. The mystics were lost in the impossible task of making meditation their whole life. Nature forbade it and brought them back. Becoming and motion are processes, but Being, pure consciousness, is not. In the experience of a glimpse we discover this fact. Being transcends becoming, but it is only the Gods who live on the plane of Being; we humans may visit it, even for long periods, but we must return.

But if the universe has no internal purpose for the World-Mind, it has one for every living entity within it and especially for every self-conscious entity such as man. If there can never be a goal for World-Mind itself, there is a very definite one for its creature man.

A tension holds all things in equilibrium between coming together of their elements, temporary maintenance of their forms, and passing away into dissolution. This includes the mineral, the plant, the animal, and the human. But when we look at the last-named, a new possibility opens up which could not have happened to Nature's earlier kingdoms. All things dissolve in the end, I wrote, but man alone dissolves consciously into a higher Consciousness.

The course taken by each life-entity in its slow development is neither straight nor direct, but a winding one, going forward and backward upward and downward, curved like a series of interwoven spirals.

Why should the waves of life-entities take this spiral-like two-way course? Why do they not go along a direct single one? The answer is that they have to gather experience to grow; if this experience includes totally opposed conditions, all the parts of each entity can grow, all its latent qualities can be stirred into unfoldment. In the oppositions of birth and death, growth and decay, in-breathing and exhaling, youth and age, joy and suffering, introversion and extroversion, spirit-form and body-form, it fulfils itself.

Experience teaches human beings that life is governed by duality, that like Nature itself, it holds contrasts and oppositions within itself. Just as day and night are positive and negative poles, so are joy and sorrow. But just as there is a point where day meets night, a point which we call the twilight, so in our experience, human experience, the joys and sorrows have a neutral point--and in Nature, an equilibrium. So the mind must find its own equilibrium, and thus it will find its own sense of peace. To see that duality governs everything is to see why human life is one tremendous paradox.

The truth of paradox is possibly too deep for most persons to accept; apparently it is too self-contradictory. That is why the balanced mind is needed to understand that the contradiction is joined with complementary roles.

Every individual comes, in time, into possession of that very peace. The answer, so often summed up in one word, is paradox. For this is what sums up the world, life, and man.

What I learned from the Hindu texts about Brahma breathing out the universe into physical existence and then back into Himself, not only referred symbolically to the periodic reincarnations of the universe but also and actually to its moment-to-moment rhythm of interchange of contrasts, differences, and even opposites. It is this interchange which not only makes universal existence possible but also sustains universal equilibrium. Without it there would be no world for man to behold, no experiences in it for him to develop, no conscious awareness in time and space.

It would be a mistake to believe that these two forces, although so very different from each other, are fighting each other. This is not so. They are to be regarded as complementary to one another. They are like positive and negative poles in electricity, and they must exist together or die together. They are inseparable, but the need between them is correct balance, or equilbrium.

Everything in Nature is included within this law of contrasting conditions. Nothing is excepted from it. Even the universe of definite, spherical forms exists in its opposite--formless space. We humans may not like the law; we would prefer light without shadow, joy without pain; but such is the World-Idea, God's thought. It is the product of infinite wisdom and as such we may trust and accept that it could not be otherwise.

One of the helpful notions which philosophy contributes to those who not only seek Truth through the intellect alone, but also seek to know how they are to live with that Truth in the active world itself, is the idea of the twofold view. There is the immediate view and there is the ultimate viewpoint. The first offers us a convenient way of looking at our activities in the world and of dealing with them whilst yet holding firmly to the Truth. The first tells us to act as if the world is real in the absolute sense. The second viewpoint, the ultimate, tells us that there can be only one true way of looking at everything, because there is only one Reality. Since it deals with the Absolute, where time and space disappear and there is no subject to view, no object to be viewed, there is no thought or complex of thoughts which can hold it; it transcends intellect. Therefore it could be said that philosophy uses duality for its practical viewpoint, but it stays in nonduality for its basic one, thus reconciling both.

Everything comes in pairs as death with life and darkness with light. Whatever seems to be necessary to existence is so only because its opposite is equally necessary. Duality is a governing factor of the world and everything within it including ourselves. That alone is outside the world, is nondual, which is the untouchable Reality. This is the Chinese idea of yin and yang, and the Bhagavad Gita's expression "the pairs of opposites" conveys the same idea. Duality is a fact. It is here. But it is also an illusion and the opposite truth which completes it is the nondual. We may deplore the illusory nature of our existence, but we need not get lost in it for it is fulfilled, completed, and finalized in its complement the Real.

The idea of man which exists in and is eternally known by the World-Mind is a master-idea.

The man that is made in the image of God is not physical man or desire-filled man or thought-breeding man but he who dwells behind all these--silent, serene, and unnoticed.

The World-Idea is self-existent. It is unfolded in time and by time; it is the basis of the universe and reflected in the human being. It is the fundamental pattern of both and provides the fundamental meaning of human life.

Though it seems entirely our own faculty, this thought-making power is derived from a hidden one, the Universal Mind, in which all other men's minds lie embedded. What he does with this power is a man's own concern, for better or worse, yielding him more knowledge or more ignorance.

The notion that God created this world spectacle for the benefit of man alone is an absurd and unwarranted anthropolatry, but the notion that life first attains individual self-consciousness in man is justified in philosophy and by experience. What is it of which he alone is conscious? It is of being himself, his ego. In all earlier stages of evolution, consciousness is entirely veiled in its forms and never becomes self-aware. Only in the human state does individual consciousness of being first dawn. There may exist on other planets creatures infinitely more intelligent and more amiable than human beings. We may not be the only pebbles on the beach of life. Nevertheless the piece of arrogance which places man highest in the scale of existence contains the dim reverberation of a great truth, for man bears the divine within his breast.

Students who have come finally to philosophy from the Indian Advaita Vedanta, bring with them the belief that the divine soul having somehow lost its consciousness is now seeking to become self-conscious again. They suppose that the ego originates and ends on the same level--divinity--and therefore the question is often asked why it should go forth on such a long and unnecessary journey. This question is a misconceived one. It is not the ego itself which ever was consciously divine, but its source, the Overself. The ego's divine character lies in its essential but hidden being, but it has never known that. The purpose of gathering experience (the evolutionary process) is precisely to bring it to such awareness. The ego comes to slow birth in finite consciousness out of utter unconsciousness and, later, to recognition and union with its infinite source. That source, whence it has emanated, remains untouched, unaffected, ever knowing and serenely witnessing. The purpose in this evolution is the ego's own advancement. When the Quest is reached, the Overself reveals its presence fitfully and brokenly at first but later the hide-and-seek game ends in loving union.

What is the use, ask many questioners, of first, an evolution of the human soul which merely brings it back to the same point where it started and second, of developing a selfhood through the long cycles of evolution only to have it merged or dissolved in the end into the unselfed Absolute? Is not the whole scheme absurdly useless? The answer is that if this were really the case, the criticism passed would be quite a fair one. But it is not the case. The unit of life emanated from the Overself begins with the merest glimmer of consciousness, appearing on our plane as a protozoic cell. It evolves eventually into the fullest human consciousness, including the intellectual and spiritual. It does not finish as it began; on the contrary, there is a grand purpose behind all its travail. There is thus a wide gulf between its original state and its final one. The second point is more difficult to clear up, but it may be plainly affirmed that man's individuality survives even in the divinest state accessible to him. There it becomes the same in quality but not identical in essence. The most intimate mental and physical experiences of human love cast a little light for our comprehension of this mystery. The misunderstanding which leads to these questions arises chiefly because of the error which believes that it is the divine soul which goes through all this pilgrimage by reincarnating in a series of earthly forms. The true teaching about reincarnation is not that the divine soul enters into the captivity and ignorance of the flesh again and again but that something emanated from the soul, that is, a unit of life that eventually develops into the personal ego, does so. The Overself contains this reincarnating ego within itself but does not itself reincarnate. It is the parent; the ego is only its offspring. The long and tremendous evolution through which the unit of life passes from its primitive cellular existence to its matured human one is a genuine evolution of its consciousness. Whoever believes that the process first plunges a soul down from the heights into a body or forces Spirit to lose itself in Matter, and then leaves it no alternative but to climb all the way back to the lost summit again, believes wrongly. The Overself never descends or climbs, never loses its own sublime consciousness. What really does this is something that emanates from it and that consequently holds its capacity and power in latency, something which is finited out of the Overself's infinitude and becomes first, the simple unit of life and later, the complex human ego. It is not the Overself that suffers and struggles during this long unfoldment but its child, the ego. It is not the Overself that slowly expands its intelligence and consciousness, but the ego. It is not the Overself that gets deluded by ignorance and passion, by selfishness and extroversion, but the ego.

The belief in the merger of the ego held by some Hindu sects or in its annihilation held by some Buddhist ones, is unphilosophical. The "I" differentiated itself out of the infinite ocean of Mind into a distinct individuality after a long development through the diverse kingdoms of Nature. Having thus arrived at consciousness of what it is, having travelled the spiral of growth from germ to man, the result of all this effort is certainly not gained only to be thrown away.

Were this to happen then the entire history of the human race would be a meaningless one, its entire travail a resultless one, its entire aspiration a valueless one. If evolution were merely the complementary return journey of an involutionary process, if the evolving entity arrived only at its starting point for all its pains, then the whole plan would be a senseless one. If the journey of man consisted of nothing more than treading a circle from the time of his emergence from the Divine Essence to the time of his mergence back into it, it would be a vain and useless activity. It would be a stupendous adventure but also a stupid one. There is something more than that in his movement. Except in the speculations of certain theorists, it simply does not happen.

The self-consciousness thus developed will not be dissolved, extinguished, or re-absorbed into the Whole again, leaving not a trace behind. Rather will it begin a new spiral of evolution towards higher altitudes of consciousness and diviner levels of being, in which it will co-operate as harmoniously with the universal existence as formerly it collided against it. It will not separate its own good from the general good. Here is part of the answer to this question: What are the ultimate reasons for human wanderings through the world-process? That life matters, that the universe possesses meaning, and that the evolutionary agonies are leading to something worthwhile--these are beliefs we are entitled to hold. If the cosmos is a wheel which turns and turns endlessly, it does not turn aimlessly. Evolution does not return us to the starting point as we were. The ascent is not a circle but a spiral.

Evolution presupposes that its own possibility has always been latent within the evolving entities. Hence the highest form is hidden away in the lowest one. There is development from the blindly instinctive life of animals to the consciously thinking life of man. The blind instinctive struggles of the plant to sustain itself are displaced in the evolutionary process by the intelligent self-conscious efforts of the man. Nor does this ascent end in the Vedantic merger or the Buddhistic annihilation. It could not, for it is a development of the individuality. Everywhere we find that evolution produces variety. There are myriads of individual entities, but each possesses some quality of uniqueness which distinguishes it from all others. Life may be one but its multitudinous expressions do differ, as though difference were inherent in such expression.

Evolution as mentalistically defined by philosophy is not quite the same as evolution as materialistically defined by Darwin. With us it is simply the mode of striving, through rhythmic rise and fall, for an ever fuller expansion of the individual unit's consciousness. However, the ego already possesses all such possibilities latently. Consequently the whole process, although apparently an ascending one, is really an unfolding one.

The ideas in a man's mind are hidden and secret until he expresses them through actions, or as speech, or as the visible creations and productions of his hands, or in behaviour generally. Those ideas are neither lost nor destroyed. They are a permanent part of the man's memory and character and consciousness and subconsciousness, where they have been recorded as automatically and as durably as a master phonograph disc records music. Just as a wax copy may be burnt but the music will still live on in the master disc, so the cosmos may be annihilated or disintegrate completely but the creative idea of it will still live on in the World-Mind. More, in the same way a man's body may die and disintegrate, but the creative idea of him will still remain in the World-Mind as his Soul. It will not die. It's his real Self, his perfect Self. It is the true Idea of him which is forever calling to be realized. It is the unmanifest image of God in which man is made and which he has yet to bring into manifestation in his everyday consciousness.

No living creature in the kingdom of animals knows more than its immediate surroundings or cares for more than the sustenance of its immediate existence. It lives in an immense and varied universe but that fact is lost to its mentality and outside its interest. Only when the evolving entity attains the stage of developed human beings does this unconsciousness disappear. Then life takes on a larger meaning and the life-force becomes aware of itself, individualized, self-conscious. Only then does a higher purpose become possible and apparent.

There is not one cell in the whole organism of man which does not reflect in miniature the pattern, the proportions, and the functions of the immense cosmos itself.

There is no choice in the matter, ultimately, although there is immediately. The entire human race will have to traverse the course chalked out for it, will have to develop the finer feelings, the concrete intellect, the abstract intellect, the balance between the different sides. If men do not seek to do so now, it is only a question of time before they will be forced to do so later.

It is not possible to know what lies at the heart of the great mystery, but it is possible to know what it is not. The intellect, bound by the forms of logic and conditioned by the linkage between cause and effect, here enters a realm where these hold no sway. The discoveries of Germany's leading nuclear physicist, Professor Heisenberg, were formulated in his law of indeterminacy. The ancient Egyptian sages symbolized this inscrutability under the figure of the Veil of Isis. The ancient Hindu sages called it Maya, that is, the inexplicable. Argument and debate, ferreting and probing among all available facts, searching and sifting of records are futile here. This is the real truth behind the doctrine of agnosticism. Every man, no matter who he be, from the most knowledgeable scientist to the profoundest philosopher, must bow his head in acknowledgment of this human limitation. He is still a human being, he is not a god. Yet there is something godlike within him and this he must find and cling to for his true salvation, his only redemption. If he does this he will fulfil his purpose on earth and then only he finds true peace of mind and an end to all this restless, agitated, uncertain mental condition. Study what this planet's best men have given us. It is no truer message than this: "Seek for the divine within yourself, return to it every day, learn how to continue in it and finally be it."

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