Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation homepage > Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Category 26: World-Idea > Chapter 3: Polarities, Complementaries, Dualities of The Universe
Polarities, Complementaries, Dualities of The Universe
Paradox, duality, nonduality
Paradox is both the primal and the final truth. Life, whether we approve of it or not, is like that. Things are dual and so is man's nature a pairing of negative and positive. But even more is the entire cosmos itself both real and unreal.
"The truest sayings are paradoxical," declared Lao Tzu, and to prove it wrote a little book which was full of them. The proverb applies as much to the entire universe which science is probing as to the mysterious divinity behind it. What is more, we humans meet at times with the most astonishing situations which exemplify paradox to the full.
Lao Tzu's Tao Teh Ching is a book of paradoxes. Yet it summarizes the highest wisdom, the Mystery behind the world, life, everything. It is the essence of yin and yang, the principle of polarization, the method of dialectics.
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.
The nature of the world's substance is paradoxical. The nature of the world process is dialectical. Questions about them cannot truthfully get a straight clear-cut answer. It is of those who demand it that Buddha must have been thinking when he remarked, "Grasping after systems, imprisoned by dogmas in the world." He even went so far as to refuse to deal with these controversial metaphysical questions.
The fact is that the higher truths are embedded in pairs of things and forces and paradoxes of situations and happenings. This applies to the universe as much as to man.
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.
In Chinese philosophy the Absolute is often represented by a simple symbol: a plain white circle surrounded by a plain black line. Out of the Absolute comes forth a point. This point is the World-Mind. With it there simultaneously manifests what the Bhagavad Gita calls the pairs of opposites and what the Chinese call yang and yin. Yang is symbolized by a kind of white crescent with a black dot in the broader end, yin by a black crescent with a white dot. It is not exactly a crescent because one end swells out like a balloon, while the other end remains sharp and pointed like a crescent. When the two symbols are put together in a single picture surrounded by the circle of the Absolute they form a single but complete symbol of the All. The Chinese call it the Tai-Ki. In Indian philosophy the Absolute is called Nonduality and the polarized universe is called Duality--or to be more precise Advaita, meaning the not two, and Dvaita, meaning the two. Yang is considered to be the positive element and yin the negative one; there is nothing in the universe which is not subject to the tension between these two elements. Therefore we human beings, who are part of the universe, are also subject to them. Their interaction brings about birth, life, and death.
In the Chinese figure which symbolizes the cosmic dualism of Yin and Yang, the two curving lines--one thickening and the other thinning, one emerging from a point and the other returning to it, one representing Mind Absolute, and the other representing Mind Active, that is, the World Mind--we see illustrated the equilibrium which keeps everything together. There is a balance of forces whereby those who know have to live as if they did not know--that is, live in the tumultuous world as if its physical reality were the only one it possesses.
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.
All human thought and experience move through the contrasts between two things or through the difference between them. Otherwise, it would not be possible for us to think or to have experience. In all human consciousness there is two-ness: thought and the object of thought, self and the thing it is aware of. But in the deepest trancelike meditation, this duality vanishes and only pure consciousness, the nondual Reality, exists.
Neither Yin nor Yang can stand alone: each is necessary to the existence of the other. In this world of Maya, that duality is the fixed truth; but in the world of Real Being, duality is transcended and neither Yin nor Yang operates there.
The Infinite Power divides some of its own stillness into the pairs of opposites and sets them in constant vibration and movement.
The positive energy of the universe, called yang by the Chinese, was pictured by a straight unbroken line whereas the negative energy that is called yin was pictured by a broken line. Everything in the universe as well as everything in man is a combination of these two forces; neither is absent but their proportions may vary widely. It is interesting to see why this symbolism was used. A solid line stands for a strong line whereas the broken one stands for a weak one. However, although the broken line also stands for femininity and the single one for masculinity this is not to say that the "weakness" and the "strength" have any moral signification or judgement; it is neither a reproach nor an approval. It is simply a difference of function: one giving and the other receiving; one developing out of a point, a seed, the other returning to that condition; one expansion, the other contraction; one the sun, the other the moon.
Yang is the creative agent in the cosmos; Yin is the destructive one.
Heartbeats, pulsations of wrist, in and out breathings, waking and sleep, rest and activity--all rhythms, alternations, and opposites = Yin + Yang.
Everything is polarized, whether in the visible universe or in the invisible forces of life itself. This fact is what the Hindus call the pairs of opposites and the Chinese call the Yin and Yang. All things are complementary and compensatory, yet, at the same time, antagonistic. If Yang gives us energy, Yin gives us calm. Both are necessary.
All through Nature these two opposing principles Yin and Yang reveal themselves. All through human existence these contraries show themselves. Most of the ancient mythologies recognized it and certainly most of the Oriental religions, too, from the Far East in China and Persia to the Near East in Lebanon and Syria.
Mystic ecstasy of union with the universe is Ishvara's creativity or Yin and Yang. It is Krishna's and Shiva's Dance, hence mystic delight. One sees light, feels love, joy; but it's behind the world misery which Buddha saw. Both are together.
Opposites constitute universe
The World-Mind is able to think the World-Idea only under the form of opposite conditions existing at the same time. No world could possibly come into existence without these contrasts and differences. Their presence accounts for the existence of the universe; their movement toward equilibrium with one another accounts for its history.
If we humanly dislike the very idea of this duality, this constant tension between two forces, this perpetual opposition by evil, disease, destruction, we must remember that if it did not exist then neither the entire universe itself nor the human being within it could exist as such. The two contrary principles must exist together or not at all.
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.
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.
The presence of pain, cruelty, even evil, seems clear enough on this planet at any rate. So men must be forgiven if they doubt and question God's goodness or break out in open rebellion against God's wisdom. We may tell them that nothing can be created without also creating its opposite. But that, like all the other explanations, will not satisfy the deeply probing intellect, even though that same intellect would be unable to find out how a one-sided planet could possibly exist.
Throughout the universe we see these opposites paired together, for indeed the universe itself is a manifestation of duality.
The opposites come into being because they are needed. Without them the Great Work of the universe could not be accomplished. Hence Lao Tzu: "Being and non-being create each other."
The World-Idea provides for a network of interwoven forces of contrasting colour and opposing direction.
It is this alternate tension and release of opposites, this Yang and Yin principle of the Chinese sages, which makes the universe what it is.
The course of life is so arranged that it gives clear evidence of Yin-Yang's activity. It appears in the contradictions, the opposing attributes of important situations, whether personal or national, and it appears in Nature in climatic oppositions during the changing year.
The tension of opposites which is depicted in a Tibetan mandala, with its grouping of heavenly and hellish forces upon a common centre, refers to this same idea.
We could see no form of anything at all if all were in the dark nor even if all were in the light. The contrast of shadow and light is needed to define the form. Opposites are always necessary to each other. This is why they are present throughout the universe and moreover present in all possible combinations and proportions in all possible rhythms and patterns. It is present in life, in all things, in planets and seasons. It is the eternal and invariable law of manifested existence.
For anything to exist for us at all, it needs an opposite to compare it with, or it will remain non-existent to our consciousness.
Thinking cannot come into existence at all unless it recognizes the pairs of opposites.
We could not appreciate Good if we had not experienced Evil. We could not appreciate Reality if we had not become lost in Appearance. It may be that for us humans, the ultimate meaning of the cosmos lies implicit in this truth.
The acting self needs an outer world and an inner one--both.
All things in man's experience can be classified into pairs of opposites--that which experiences and that which is experienced. In each pair the first member itself becomes, on analysis, the second member of another pair.
Whatever we look at, we see only in a relationship of contrast to something else. It is a mistake to consider this opposition to be antagonistic. On the contrary, each should be considered a part of the other if our perception is to be true and our judgement correct. This teaches us to synthesize, to look at both sides of a thing, to include both points of view in an argument, and to add the similarities also instead of noting the differences alone.
It may be unusual, inconsistent, startling, to propose that we think in terms of opposing ideas, of conflicting statements, and find identity in variety, but that is Nature's own way--her Yin and Yang.
It is a teaching which plays on contradictions and finds room for opposites. It sees them both in the structure of the universe and in the movement of evolution. It puts them in its approach to human problems.
Each view of a thing or idea implies the existence of the contrary view.
To understand that the universal evolution depends upon a two-way interconnected movement, and that its comprehension requires us to think about it in oppositional terms, is to be liberated from the narrow, one-sided, incomplete, and intolerant thinking which is responsible for so many absurdities and miseries in human history.
Optimism becomes as unreasonable as pessimism when both ignore the two-faced character of fortune and Nature, the Yin-Yang interplay.
A view of the World which fails or refuses to recognize that the opposites are essential to it, which accepts its beauty but not its ugliness, is not complete and only half true.
Nothing exists without its contrary: if there is suffering as well as sweetness in life, that is no accident, nor is it brought into the scheme of things by human evil alone.
In the end, a man must recognize that there are two forces at work in Nature--and therefore in his own life--the one benign, the other hostile.
The good and the evil are so mingled together that it is futile to expect to find one without the other.
If he hears the lark singing and notes its joy, he hears also the captured prey of hawk and owl and notes their screams. If he admires the beauty of Himalaya, he remembers the large number of living creatures buried at its upheaval.
The brutality of Nature is certainly present but so is its beauty. If the piranha fish devours any live creature mercilessly, the lark flies delightedly.
This play of opposites exists not only in Nature but also in human destiny. We observe repeatedly how fortune and misfortune are either intermingled or follow one another in phases. The modern Italian writer Cesare Pavese received in 1950 the highest literary praise of his country, yet, before the year came to its end, he took his own life.
There are two principles which are fundamental in the operations of our universe, even though they are opposed to one another. We humanly label one good and the other bad, not seeing how one is necessary to the existence of the other and both to the universe.
A world without pain, without suffering, is a utopian, impossible world.
The complete truth is that the universe is neither hostile, as many scientists conclude, nor friendly, as many religionists believe: it is both.
Geometrical patterns and designs not only symbolize the universe's structure and nature, process and operation; they also show its harmonies and symmetries, conflicts and oppositions, its lights and shadows.
Both forces--the static and the dynamic--are present in existence, in Nature and human life.
In the universe everything has its opposite; the one cannot exist unless at some point in time the other also exists.
The contradiction between yin and yang is a surface one only. They interact with each other and work together dynamically in association with the World-Idea.
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 equilibrium.
This is the universe's final fact, life's last twin-secret. The pairs of opposites really secretly combine, co-operate and assist each other, despite their outward appearance of antagonism.
The structure of the universe is built on two principles which, although opposite in tendency, work together to produce Nature's harmonious order.
Heraclitus taught that the universe was a conflict of opposites controlled by what he called Eternal Justice and what we call Karma.
All things in Nature show this polarity of opposed characters. All forces and movements in Nature show it in their striving to adjust, balance, reconcile or unite their contradictory activities and conflicting rhythms.
There is hardly any situation which does not have its composition of Yin and Yang, good and bad, at the same time. A favoured life is faulted at some point, an ill-favoured one compensated for in some way. The inexperience of youth is balanced by its vitality, the accumulated experience of old age is countered by its infirmities.
Every yin is ranged by Nature along with a yang, everywhere there are the pairs of opposites. Here what was once a clear-watered lake is becoming rapidly polluted, dirty looking. On the lake the white swans which move so gracefully can behave very viciously to one another. At their feeding time I have seen them bite the younger members of their tribe to drive them away. I have also seen, many years ago, a swan literally bite the hand of a child which was trying to feed it and inflict a severe wound on the child. Moreover, this powerful bird has been known to break a man's arm with a single blow of its bill. Yet the swan looks so innocent and beautiful that it occupies a place in the spiritual symbolism of India.
When one understands this play of Yin and Yang in all existence, and therefore the double nature of human nature, one dislikes pinning a precise tag of classification on anyone, putting him under a rigid category of goodness alone or badness alone.
The presence of Yin and Yang shows itself everywhere: in the human being--so admirable in technological achievement, so ignoble in political strife.
Yin and Yang work side by side or fight face to face or compensate one another.
Yin is forever accompanied by its opposite Yang, which flows in an opposing current.
These opposite tendencies co-operate to produce an equilibrium in Nature.
The notion that anything outside of God can exist or have meaning by itself is a false one. The universe is what it is only because it depends on an equilibrium of opposing forces or of pairs of things united in opposition.
The objective of Balance is held not only before man but also before the universe itself. The movements and forces within it are set for attraction and repulsion, opposition and contrast, so that as they balance themselves its own equilibrium is maintained.
The cosmos has its own integral balance, or it could not remain a cosmos. And it must keep this balance all the time and in all places.
Abrupt changes in history and brusque changes in ideas came in our time partly because they were karmically due, or even overdue, and partly because of pressure from the World,-Idea. All this means that the so-called good and the so-called bad interplay again to find a temporary equilibrium.
Nature keeps her equilibrium by bringing in counter forces, or complementary ones, to correct or balance any condition where too much has gone too far.
When the pairs of opposites, the contradictory forces, are brought into a reciprocal unity, equilibrium is established and harmony prevails.
The opposites and the different meet here, are held in equilibrium, balance and supplement one another.
It includes opposites, reconciles contradictories, unites differences.
In this world, everything exists with an opposite, as stated in the Bhagavad Gita and referred to in the Chinese doctrine of yin and yang. These opposites are contrasts, but also complements and in this sense dependent upon one another. The art of life, so far as these opposites affect us, is to establish a proper equilibrium between them.
It is the equilibrium in which the paired opposites and the tension between them come to rest.
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.
He accepts the tension that exists between the indivisible and interdependent opposites which compose life but puts it into his own inner harmony and tranquillity.
Yin and Yang are not the opposing principles of good and evil in life but are the heavenly and earthly energies. They complement each other; although independent, the effect is to work together. The one is positive and the other is passive. Finally, they test and complete each other. The philosophic ideal is to balance the two harmoniously.
The polarity of yin and yang goes through all existence and therefore all experience. Neither can be destroyed, but what can be done is to bring them together, to reconcile them on a higher plane.
Cyclic unfoldment, reversal
The World-Idea is not like a human architect's planning. It is a mighty creative idea, pressing forward into activity, or retreating inward to repose, according to cyclic need.
The World-Idea contains the twin forces of evolution and involution--the two go together--but although they are simultaneously present in the whole, they act separately and at different times on each individual cell, entity, creature, or substance. Their presence and activity can be seen both in Nature and in human life.
The history of universal events, the ceaseless developments and evolutions as well as the retrogressions, cataclysms, and destructions, the energies and substances, express the World-Idea. It is inherent in all things, latent in all laws of Nature.
There are ideas which become obsolete and are allowed to die. But three ideas are so fundamental that they will always reappear. They are built into the universe and therefore into man himself.
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 a movement in the universe which during one phase seems constructive, but in a later phase seems destructive. But both are really part of its order, its divine order, for the two phases belong to each other, complement each other, and are necessary to each other.
There are two poles of this universal movement: the one, a going-out, affirming, and the other a coming-back and denying. All nature is bisected by this two-way process.
The life of the universe moves through a series of evolutionary oscillations between rest and activity.
It is the increase of one movement which runs parallel with the decrease of the other movement. One is constructive even while the other is destructive.
The rhythmic life alternates and reacts. It brings alternation of the alternations and reactions against the reactions.
Just as humans and animals pass through their cycles of infancy, youth, maturity, and senility, so does the planet itself which is their abode.
The cycle of existence is never-ending. Whoever understands this truth and his own relationship to it will become humble.
Existence is an endless affair but it has periods of rest and withdrawal, changes of form and body, of consciousness and selfhood. We are developments brought forth from it and taken back into it.
The universe plays its little part on the surface of unknowable and ineffable Mind and is gone--only to reappear at some immensely far-off time.
Worlds come into being, are maintained for a long or short while, change, and dissolve. As we can readily see by observation and experience, this is not less the situation for the creatures--including human creatures--who inhabit these worlds. Yet most people are too unprepared, too weak and too shallow, to be willing to take in these truths.
Infinite Mind releases from within itself an infinite variety of suns, stars, planets, substances, plants, and creatures. Even the process itself is an infinite one, countered only by necessary dissolutions and destructions, pauses and rests. Even universes get old and die off. All that is released into manifestation is subject to this perpetual law of movement and change, growth, decay, death, reappearance, and recurrence.
The universe comes into being, maintains its varied operations, or passes into dissolution by inherent necessity.
The entire universe will dissolve and vanish into the unseen Power whence it came. But there are many other universes and galaxies to replace our own.
Dawn follows night in the vast cosmos with rhythmical recurrence. Therefore the sages say that there is neither beginning nor end to the universe but the perennial flow of eternity. The Final is likewise the First. We must understand clearly that creation and dissolution, evolution and involution continue to recur perpetually. It is not a question of long periods of time coming to a final close. This rhythm of the universe is incessant. According to the Chinese wisdom, when either of the two aspects has developed to its utmost limit, then it begins to transform itself into the polar opposite of its own accord. Our own proverb "The night is darkest just before dawn" is also apt here. In the sky we see the same phenomenon. The moment when the waxing moon has reached its fullest is immediately followed by the moment when the process of waning begins. The highest position of the mounting sun is no sooner attained in the overhead sky at noon the great orb begins its downward descent. At new moon the waning process comes to an end and the reverse process occurs. The same turning point is reached at winter and summer solstices. The interrelation of these phenomena with the larger phenomenon of the universal creation and dissolution may be seen. At the extreme point of either process there is a turning.
Every movement in Nature ultimately reverses itself, but the point of reversal is not reached until it has gone to the extreme. With the reversal it begins to develop opposite qualities. This is an old and well-known idea in China, not only among the people but also among the philosophers. Lao Tzu, for instance, says, "To go farther and farther means to revert back again."
In this shuttle-and-loom, two-way alternating rhythm of the universe, when the forces attain the midpoint of their arc, they start working in reverse, going down instead of evolving up, decaying and destroying instead of nurturing and vitalizing, yielding pain instead of pleasure.
Every condition in man, every effect in Nature is forever seeking to attain its own fullness. Yet the moment that is attained and a pause ensues, it reverses its direction and begins to seek union with its opposite. Thus it balances itself in the end.
Evolution is never a straight line. It could not be, in a two-way, universe. At the crisis-point on each way a shock becomes necessary to force a turnabout. This is the same point referred to by ancient Greek thinkers, where everything destroys itself in the end by its own excess. Heraclitus meant the same when he too taught that all things tend to turn into their opposites.
The movement in one direction sooner or later provokes a counter-movement in the opposite direction. This reaction leads to resistance at some point or points; it may also lead to friction and then to fighting.
Each phase of this to-and-fro movement covers long periods. When the impetus in one direction exhausts itself, the opposing impetus awakens from tranquillity and is active.
When the movement in one direction has exhausted itself, there is a pause, and then a reversal directs the movement into the opposite direction.
The flow of Nature follows the course indicated by the Principle of Reversion, which throws it back after a time in the opposite direction.
When the point of farthest travel is reached, the forces reverse themselves. In this way, excess disciplines and even defeats itself. In this way too the universe and all the different kinds of existences in it are kept in equilibrium.
In the to-and-fro movement of animal breathing, we have a key to human development. Study it well with this aid and you will discern a forward and backward movement, a pendulum-like swing, here too.
Everything in the universe is subject to a pendulum-like movement. It shuttles to and fro with a coming-to-be and a ceasing-to-be effect.
A time comes when he must weary of his paradise, when a desire appears for the conditions which he was formerly glad to leave behind but now would be glad to take up again. Thus it is that man shuttles through this universe of opposites.
Just as the ink-ribbon of recently outmoded typewriters automatically reverses itself when the end is reached, and then winds in the opposite direction, so does the flow of a nation's historic development change its outward and inward course when karmic requital and balancing need call for such reversal.
Physics finds that nothing is ultimately permanent, that everything moves from its present condition to its opposite. Need we be surprised that history finds somewhat the same cyclic movement in the activities of mankind, that deterioration of even the best comes with time, that improvement of even the worst follows too?
It is as true in the domain of inner life as in the outer one that Nature must restore equilibrium when it is lacking, must compensate opposing forces by balancing them. There could not be any stable universe if it were not continuously being equilibrated in some of its parts. This is happening by obedience to a law, not by chance. It is happening wherever the movement or development of man and Nature reaches an extreme, when it forces a reversal of direction of the movement backward toward the other and totally dissimilar extreme. The pattern followed is therefore a rhythmic one, shuttling between one pole and its opposite.
In the history of man, when the point of fullness in any particular development is approached, a contradictory movement begins to come into play and, at first gradually but later suddenly, reverses the direction of his tendencies. In this way not only are neglected potentialities activated but also some sort of an equilibrium is maintained. These critical turning points are always marked by great and violent upheavals.
The universe is not only constructed by divine intelligence on a two-way oscillating rhythm, but also on a balancing force between both movements.
If man upsets Nature's equilibrium by excess, she sets up a reversal in compensation, a movement toward lack, restraint. This is the endless oscillation of things, history.
There is a threefold movement in nature and life--forward, backward, and neutralizing.
There is a Buddhist theory that everything that has been will be again, repeating itself by a precise mathematical law when the same particles of matter are brought together again. There is also a Hindu theory of perpetual alternation between change and changelessness, of endless rhythm and periodicity which provides no evolutionary goal but makes life an end in itself.
The view held by Ouspensky and Gurdjieff, and by certain Buddhist sects from whom the latter derived it, that Eternal Recurrence is the eternal law, that perpetual repetitive movement is the universal condition, is questionable at the very least, unjustifiable at the very most. If the human race, for example, were doomed to repeat all its mistakes and misdeeds again and again, its life would be senseless. Such an outlook is not far from the merely materialistic one.
The idea of recurring historic cycles is not alone Buddhist and Asiatic, but also Greek and European (held by Nietzsche in modern times and Pythagoras and Zeno in ancient times).
Spiral movement of universal flux
All things move forward, stop, and wheel back on themselves. They increase and strengthen but also bend and submit. This advance and retreat is both a cycle and a spiral. It is not blind, for thus it establishes equilibrium and obeys law, that is, it gives meaning.
Nowhere in Nature does a situation, a circumstance, a creature, or a person recur exactly as before. It is true that Nature repeats herself, but during the interval the spiral has wound its way onward.
In the spiral's form we see the coming together of that which is the hidden being and that which is the visible one, so the full truth is revealed. It is true of a creature or a globe.
Wherever you see a spiral form in nature, you will find it stands for a form which is developing, growing, changing, or moving.
The spiral expresses this Yin-Yang polarity as it twists from each side to the opposite one. Among the power-phenomena of Nature, the whirlwind takes the same form.
The cycles which show the path of universal movement are not horizontal ones, but ascending spirals. If there is a return to the same place, it is on a higher level each time.
The inward-going and outward-turning forces of the cosmos work with perfect reciprocity and carry everything with them by turns. The line they follow is a spiral curve. The neutral points where they meet are points of rest and inactivity. Thus, although they oppose each other, they also balance each other.
The movement of every energy and trend takes a curved direction. This is why there is no straight-line, lapse-free evolution in human nature or history. And the curve develops itself with time into a circle, and this again with further time into a spiral.
The history of the universe is a history of cycles: of birth, development, disintegration, death, and rest endlessly repeated on higher and higher levels. The energy impulses which rise from the Void and accumulate as electrons, only to disperse later, reproduce the same cycles through which the entire universe itself passes.
The large clear cosmological vistas of philosophy reveal the unfaltering return of the evolutionary spiral upon itself and help us to appreciate the superb harmony of the World-Idea.
With every finished cycle the evolutionary line moves up higher and thus becomes a spiral.
The evolutionary movement moves through a series of advances and retrogressions, and through slow steps broken periodically by violent spurts.
Evolution threads its way spiral-fashion, mostly by slow, unhurried inches but at critical periods by mounting leaps. Nor is it seen aright unless its complement and corollary, involution, is seen along with it.
All things and all beings, all events and all phenomena are interrelated in an endless chain. In this way evolution circles the universe again and again, spiral-like.
Evolution is not only accomplished by a series of rising and falling arcs but also across long flat plains.
Development is not continuous. It moves forward through alternations of lulls and renewals, peaks and valleys and plateaus, in rhythmic fluctuation.
The course taken by the universal movement may be upward in spiral evolution or downward in spiral retrogression.
The materialist who asserts man to be wholly the product of environment is half right. The immaterialist who asserts the opposite is likewise half right. This is because development moves alternately in two opposed directions, never stays in a single one.
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.
If these alternating sequences through which every entity has to pass were subject to endless repetition, we would be entitled to criticize the absurdity and uselessness of it all. But they are not. If the repetitions do occur, they do so on a higher level each time. The net result is genuine evolution of the entity.
The cosmic movement traces a circular path, which is why the evolving entity has to pass through opposite extremes and why it is guaranteed a fullness of experience. In no other way could its progress toward a higher level be made sure by the periodic arrest of its downward courses. Contrast and difference are innate in the divine World-Idea to control and adjust the conflicting and opposing forces.
Life subjects man to "the pairs of opposites," throws him into the conditions he needs to balance his experience. In undergoing this reversal of pattern, he is compelled to draw upon all his latent resources, not merely upon one of them.
The movement along a turning spiral road through one birth after another, will in time pass through seemingly unrelated extremes and unfriendly opposites.
We see a perpetual struggle going on in the cosmos between two contrary forces. It appears not only in Nature's operations but also in man's inner being. Thus there is no continuous upward movement but rather an alternation, which is of a cyclic and spiral kind. Repulsion follows attraction in the human mind, decay contradicts growth in the universal life.
The Notebooks are copyright © 1984-1989, The Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation.