Time: "the deep and placid pool"

By I. M. Oderberg
Time and Light and Life.
When and where is their beginning? And their ending?
Never, it seems. Nowhere, it seems. All is one continuum -- so it appears
. -- R. G. H. Siu

The ancient Mayas conceived of time as "something divine and eternally flowing." Out of its recesses poured the universe and their creatures, manifesting their various qualities. The Hindus claimed that "the essence of pure being transcends time and space" and therefore has no limits. Empedocles saw the cosmos as the result of the combination and separation of earth, air, fire and water -- the essences of these elements and not their physical representatives we know on our globe. He thought the processes of drawing together and flying apart of the basic components of manifestation were governed by the influences of "Love" and "Strife" or attraction and repulsion. Heraclitus said that life flows like a river and we cannot step into the same water twice. Recent theories about the dynamics of the universe suggest that there are cosmic cycles of expansion and contraction taking place simultaneously as far as various locations in the vast realms of superspace are considered together; or consecutively if we regard any particular entity within it.

The image of time moving forward as a stream does seem one-dimensional and man-made. Hours, days and years are but convenient divisions we have invented to mark off our experiences, to provide the means to relate events to each other. In reality, the planet turns upon its axis in a continuous motion that does not know the segmented hours that occupy so much of our own attention. If our 'direction-time' seems to imply movement, the prime mover is not itself but consciousness impressed by and expressing successive stages of awareness and response. The backdrop for the whole experience is dimensionless time or duration, which we can only feel as an ever-present now.

These thoughts and what they imply about man and the universe are intimately concerned with the ideas of light, life, entitative being and matter. Problems involving them have exercised the minds of philosophers, scientists and religious scholars through the ages.

Dr. R. G. H. Siu has just completed his trilogy of books embodying reflections about such concepts. Formerly a member of the faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and now a private consultant, he has brought to bear upon the problems a scientist's expertise and a considerable erudition in the Western and Oriental cultures. His latest volume (Ch'i: A Neo-Taoist Approach to Life, M.I.T. Press, 1974, 351 pp., bibliography, index) traces the source of energies being investigated to what he calls ch'i, an old Chinese word that is strictly speaking indefinable. Yet its meaning may be intuited through the phrase, a perpetual "confluence of Time, Light and Life." In this respect it seems similar to the Sanskrit term jiva, which generally signifies "the One Life" and also a living entity, a monad of consciousness or "an unself-conscious godspark." (See The Esoteric Tradition and Fountain-Source of Occultism, both by G. de Purucker, for an in-depth exposition of the relationship of light and life.)

Dr. Siu himself views "light" as the origin of both ch'i and energy, each being the subjective and objective, or material, aspects of manifested entities. The book takes the novel form of a small but concentrated neo-Taoist text with beautiful verbal images, and a large commentary using scientific data and contributions from the cultural heritage of man. The tone is set in the opening passages:

Musing is delightful freedom. No one claims the jurisdiction, sets the rules, or challenges the outcome. You may muse at any time, in any place, and under any circumstance.
Never does it dip into the pits of evil.
It ennobles and enlightens and suffuses as with a quiet joy.

The author sees that light, time and life are intertwined, as he expounds the fiat in Genesis, "Let there be light!" The creative utterance surely implies time, and the first act contains within it the potential or subjective basis of living creatures. For him "light" is the source of everything through its emanations of ch'i and energy, the fusions of which produce the organisms that compose a world or a cosmos.

The traditional Chinese envisioned Time to be a deep and placid pool.
The concrete manifestations of the single life were felt to emerge from its undifferentiated depths and in due course return into the same continuum.

And the "Early Persians related Time to Light" in their philosophy of cosmic origins.

We add that the "Thrice-Unknown Darkness" of the Orphics, so divinely bright as to seem dark to the dazzled vision of created beings, is the parent of "Unaging Time," duration or Dr. Siu's "deep and placid pool." The endless cycles of our 'direction-time' are swallowed up in the fathomless immensity.

Consciousness on the cosmic and human levels is bipolar, with refined and unrefined nodes or elements known by different terms at various times, but most commonly as spirit and matter. Lao-tzu cautioned that whatever names they are given, in their origin they are one and the same. There is a temptation to materialize the multitudes of subparticles found inside the atom and its nucleus. The latest discoveries in the cosmic and nuclear fields are as quaint and peculiar as the names given them: 'black' and 'worm' holes in space; 'strangeness,' 'charm,' and 'color' for kinds or "classes" of particles. They refer to phenomena previously unsuspected, far different from what was expected or theorized, and they all seem to be leading us into a new appraisal of life and its manifestations.

The moment of illumination that took place for all mankind millions of years ago, when intelligence emerged after many "Lucifer-lightbringers" sparked self-consciousness into a flame, recurs even today -- every time there is a flash of understanding. Beguiled by our experiences in earthly matter we seldom raise our sights to the causal areas of being. We are vessels of "time, light and life" just as much as is the universe surrounding and permeating us. The spatial expanses beyond us may show forth larger scale operations than we do, but if the degree is greater, the essential quality is the same.

Man perceives his environment and absorbs sense impressions that his mind fashions into concepts bounded by his view of space and time. These pictures are transmuted in the crucible of his imagination into symbols and myths that transcend their limitations and that he projects to other people and possibly far into the future.

Since perceptions change constantly, although the images in which they have been fused and projected may be held constantly, even stubbornly, there can be no absolute definition of the universe as though it were a static thing. Indeed, we can say there are successions of 'universes' as first one of our pictures of it gives way to a second, it to a third and then another. Yet, universes per se do have their birth, growth, flowering and sinking into the "deep and placid pool" -- to reemerge later, however.

There is also a sense in which 'ideas' should not be held to be synonymous with 'concepts'; for whereas an idea bears with it 'feeling' and an entitative force we may liken to power, a concept is often merely an "intellectual abstraction," as someone once phrased it. Dr. Siu encourages us to: "float as a mobile cloud; abide as the serene sea." To "cultivate a looseness natural to ch'i" and to "live the self that truly is." He also tells us that "every species possesses a characteristic range of capacities for transforming ch'i."

We all share with Plato the difficulty of finding the right words to express exactly the relation between ideas and things. He ultimately chose a term meaning "to participate in" or "to share in." This is reminiscent of the key lesson in The Mustard-Seed Garden, the ancient Chinese text also called the "Tao of Painting." The old Chinese artist taught his students to enter into the object to be painted. If it is a rock of birds in the sky, then one must feel the sense of flying free through the air. If the focus is upon a stone, the painter should visualize the solidity and placement of that stone, to all intents becoming one with it in his awareness. Dr. Siu did not use this example, but a similar approach to the problem of entitative life can enable us to project consciously into the 'higher' or more refined aspects of our being. We are more or less familiar with the models and theories used by the psychoanalysts and psychotherapists. There is a modern outgrowth of these systems that reaches much farther or more deeply than the others. It views analysis as not providing enough to offer understanding of human nature. As a Los Angeles practitioner says, all that analysis does is to separate the whole man into his components. Synthesis, on the other hand, seeks to integrate him into a wholeness, "a harmonious use of all our functions, of all our potentialities."

If integration is to take place, the various tendencies of human nature must be harmonized, How is this to be done? . . . first, synthesis should occur around a personal center, the conscious ego, . . . Eventually psychosynthesis may occur around a deeper center which, for lack of a better word, we may call a spiritual center, a spiritual Self with a capital "S", of which the little self of our everyday life is only a reflection in the field of consciousness. -- Psychosynthesis: A Psychotherapy For The Whole Man, by Robert Gerard, Ph.D., transcript of two lectures given at the 1961 annual meeting of the Conference on Science and Religion, published in 1964

Individuality may appear to us to imply separateness, but we need to bear in mind that we are more than egos sufficient to ourselves. We are like the notes of a musical composition, seemingly separate, but blended into the whole work which would be incomplete without each one. In like manner all earth's inhabitants, of whatever degree of development, are necessary to the entirety of the planetary being which reaches to the limits of its magnetic field, and is not bounded by the rocks and water of its material surface.

In these and so many other areas of research there are doors opening out into new and therefore unexplored realms of nature. These topics may not have been entirely unknown previously, but were investigated by other methods than those in general use today. Different procedures to acquire knowledge and understanding, to probe nature's secrets regarding the world and man, once existed -- if we are to believe the remains of ancient cultures. Some of these signposts have survived into our own time, suggesting that there has been a stream of wisdom-knowledge flowing continuously, even though sometimes it has been necessary for it to go underground in eras of dogmatic restrictions.

Late last century the prevalent materialistic bias was destroyed when the belief that the atom is immutable, irreducible or indivisible, was exploded; and also by the exposure by X-rays of what stretches beyond the range of ordinary sight. Then the theory of relativity in this century thrust another spearhead into the notion of many scientists that material substance is the rock-bottom base of existence, out of which life appeared fortuitously as the result of chemical mixing and reactions. Although some well-known scientists still hold firmly to a similar view, generally speaking our thinking is more liberated than it has been for ages, and matter itself is increasingly seen to be continuous with the immaterial.

Life ensouls manifestations in endless duration, and man and other beings are more than "a heap of organized dust." They have an essence that exhibits characteristics of a spiritual-magnetic kind. There is a wealth of meaning in Shelley's immortal lines:

The One remains, the many change and pass; . . .
Life, like a dome of many-colored glass,
Stains the white radiance of Eternity.

The various facets of our being compose the "many-colored glass" through which the divine Light shines. But they do not stain "the white radiance of Eternity" in the sense of besmirching or discoloring. For the white is the compound of all colors, and cosmic Life comprises the essence of each of us, and more -- the Boundless, the Unmanifest that is yet to be. This is the flow into the "deep and placid pool of time," from which all emerge at a later period to begin a range of experience altogether new and higher.

(From Sunrise magazine, June-July 1975; copyright © 1975 Theosophical University Press)

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