Pagan concepts of the Absolute

"Let us look at what Hinduism holds to be the Absolute. The ultimate goal and Absolute of Hinduism are "Brahman" in Sanskrit. The word comes from the Sanskrit verb root brh, meaning "to grow". Etymologically, the term means "that which grows" (brhati) and "which causes to grow" (brhmayati).

Brahman is not "God"

Brahman, as understood by the scriptures of Hinduism, as well as by the 'acharyas' of the Vedanta school, is a very specific conception of the Absolute. This unique conception has not been replicated by any other religion on earth and is exclusive to Hinduism. Thus to even call this conception of Brahman "God" is, in a sense, somewhat imprecise. This is the case because Brahman does not refer to the anthropomorphic concept of God of the Abrahamic religions. When we speak of Brahman, we are referring neither to the "old man in the sky" concept nor to the idea of the Absolute as even capable of being vengeful, fearful or engaging in choosing a favorite people from among His creatures. For that matter, Brahman is not a "He" at all, but rather transcends all empirically discernable categories, limitations, and dualities.

What is Brahman?

In the 'Taittariya Upanishad' II.1, Brahman has described in the following manner: "satyam jnanam anantam brahma", "Brahman is of the nature of truth, knowledge, and infinity." Infinite positive qualities and states have their existence secured solely by virtue of Brahman's very reality. Brahman is a necessary reality, eternal (i.e., beyond the purview of temporality), fully independent, non-contingent, and the source and ground of all things. Brahman is both immanently present in the realm of materiality, interpenetrating the whole of reality as the sustaining essence that gives it structure, meaning and existential being, yet Brahman is simultaneously the transcendent origin of all things (thus, panentheistic).

The Nature of Brahman

As the primary causal substance of material reality (jagatkarana), Brahman does not arbitrarily will the coming into being of the non-Brahman metaphysical principles of matter and jivas (individuated consciousness), but rather they are manifest into being as a natural result of the overflowing of Brahman's grandeur, beauty, bliss, and love. Brahman cannot but create abundant good in a similar manner to how Brahman cannot but exist. Both existence and overflowing abundance are as many necessary properties of Brahman as love and nurturing are necessary qualities of any virtuous and loving mother.

Brahman is the Source

One can say that Brahman Itself (Him/Herself) constitutes the essential building material of all reality, being the antecedent primeval ontological substance from whence all things proceed. There is no ex nihilo creation in Hinduism. Brahman does not create anything from nothing but from the reality of Its own being. Thus Brahman is, in Aristotelian terms, both the Material Cause as well as the Efficient Cause of creation.

The Final Goal & the Final Cause

As the source of Dharma, the metaphysical ordering principles inherent in the design of the cosmos, Brahman can be viewed as the Formal Cause. And as the final goal of all reality, Brahman is also the Final Cause. Being the ontological source of all reality, Brahman is the only substantial real that truly exists, all other metaphysical categories being either a) contingent transformations of Brahman, having their very being subsisting in attributive dependence upon Brahman, or else b) illusory in nature. These views about the nature of Brahman are in general keeping with the theological teachings of both the Advaita and the Vishishta-Advaita schools of Hinduism.

Brahman is the Ultimate Reality

All reality has its source in Brahman. All reality has its grounding sustenance in Brahman. It is in Brahman that all reality has its ultimate repose. Hinduism, specifically, is consciously and exclusively aiming toward this reality termed Brahman."----

"Relating to the Tao

Many Taoist ideas come from other Chinese schools of thought. It's not always easy to draw accurate distinctions between ideas that are fundamentally Taoist and those that Taoism took in from elsewhere, especially Buddhism.

The Tao cannot be described in words. Human language can only give hints that may help the mind to form an idea.

The most important thing about the Tao is how it works in the world, and how human beings relate to it. Philosophical speculation about what the Tao actually is, is less important than living in sensitive response to the Tao.

The most useful words to stimulate an idea of the Tao are found in the Tao Te Ching and Chuang Tzu:

The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao;
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The Nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth;
The Named is the mother of all things.
There was something undifferentiated and yet complete,
Which existed before Heaven and Earth.
Soundless and formless it depends on nothing and does not change.
It operates everywhere and is free from danger.
It may be considered the mother of the universe.
I do not know its name; I call it Tao.
All things in the world come from being.
And being comes from non-being. (form comes from formlessness)?---Tao Te Ching

The Way is to man as rivers and lakes are to fish,
the natural condition of life.----Chuang Tzu

The Tao is not a thing

The Tao is not a thing or a substance in the conventional sense.

It cannot be perceived but it can be observed in the things of the world. Although it gives rise to all being, it does not itself have being.

Although it's conventional to refer to The Tao, some writers think that the "the" should be dropped because it isn't in the original Chinese term.

They feel that using 'the' gives Westerners the idea that the Tao is a metaphysical reality, by which they mean a thing (in the widest sense) or an absolute being like a god.

But even the name Tao can lead Westerners to think of Tao in the same way that they think of objects.

That sort of thinking is misleading: Thinking of the Tao as some sort of object produces an understanding of the Tao that is less than the reality.

It might be more helpful to regard Tao as a system of guidance. And if one does this one can translate 'achieving union with the Tao' into 'developing oneself so as to live in complete conformity with the teachings of the Tao' which is easier to understand, and closer to the truth.

Glimpsed only through its effects

A good way of avoiding the Tao-as-object error is to see the various concepts of the Tao as doing no more than describing those effects of the Tao that human beings are aware of. They do not describe its reality.

The Tao is not God

The Tao is not God and is not worshipped. Taoism does include many deities, but although these are worshipped in Taoist temples, they are part of the universe and depend, like everything, on the Tao.

The Tao includes several concepts in one word:

the source of creation
the ultimate
the inexpressible and indefinable
the unnameable
the natural universe as a whole
the way of nature as a whole"

"Ein-Sof, the Infinite God, has no static, definable form. Instead, the Kabbalists conceive God, the world and humanity as evolving together through, and thus embodying, a number of distinct stages and aspects, with later stages opposing, but at the same time encompassing, earlier ones. The Kabbalist零 God is both perfectly simple and infinitely complex, nothing and everything, hidden and revealed, reality and illusion, creator of man and created by man,. As Ein-Sof evolves it is progressively revealed as "nothing whatsoever" (Ayin), the totality of being, the Infinite Will (Ratzon) , Thought and Wisdom, the embodiment of all value and significance (the Sefirot), the wedding of male and female, and ultimately the union of all contradictions. Ein-Sof is both the totality of this dialectic and each of the points along the way. Ein-Sof must be constantly redefined, as by its very nature, it is in a constant process of self-creation and redefinition. This self-creation is actually embodied and perfected in the creativity of humanity, who through practical, ethical, intellectual and spiritual activities, strives to redeem and perfect a chaotic, contradictory and imperfect world.

The Kabbalists used a variety of negative epistemological terms to make reference to the hidden God; "the concealment of secrecy", "the concealed light", "that which thought cannot contain" etc. (Gershom Scholem, Kabbalah, p. 88) each of which signifies that this God is somehow beyond human knowledge and comprehension. However, there are other terms, e.g., "Root of all roots", "Indifferent Unity", "Great Reality," (Scholem. Major Trends, p. 12) "Creator," "Cause of Causes" and "Prime Mover" (as well as the term, Ein-Sof, "without end") which signify that God is the origin of the world, the reality of the world, or the totality of all things. Yet in spite of the positive connotations, even those Kabbalists who utilized such terms held that they referred to a God who is completely unknowable and concealed. Of this God, the proto-Kabbalistic work,Sefer Yetzirah had earlier said "restrain your mouth from speaking and your heart from thinking, and if your heart runs let it return to its place" (Sefer Yetzirah. I. 8, as translated in Tishby, The Wisdom of the Zohar. Vol , 1 p 234).

As explained in Symbols of the Kabbalah, Chapter Two, Ein-sof provides a rational/spiritual answer to the questions "Why is there anything at all?" and "What is the meaning of human life?" Ein-sof begets a world so that He, as the source of all meaning and value, can come to know Himself, and in order for His values, which in Him exist only in the abstract, can become fully actualized in humanity. Ein-sof is both the fullness of being and absolute nothingness, but is not complete in its essence until He is made real through the spiritualizing and redemptive activity of mankind. Ein-sof is mirrored in the heart and soul of man, but, more importantly, He is actualized in man's deeds.

Ein-sof is discussed in detail throughout Symbols of the Kabbalah, but in particular in Chapter 2, pp. 60-119). Ein-sof is discussed in relation to Brahman in Hinduism, the Pleroma in Gnosticism, the One and the Good in Plato and Plotinus, the Absolute in Hegel, and the unconscious in Freud and Jung, in Kabbalistic Metaphors. Daniel Matt has written a scientifically oriented introduction to Ein-sof appears in Tikkun Magazine and is excerpted from his book God and the Big Bang."---
"The apeiron is central to the cosmological theory created by Anaximander, a 6th-century BC pre-Socratic Greek philosopher whose work is mostly lost. From the few existing fragments, we learn that he believed the beginning or ultimate reality (arche) is eternal and infinite, or boundless (apeiron), subject to neither old age nor decay, which perpetually yields fresh materials from which everything we can perceive is derived.[4] Apeiron generated the opposites (hot–cold, wet–dry, etc.) which acted on the creation of the world (cf. Heraclitus). Everything is generated from apeiron and then it is destroyed by going back to apeiron, according to necessity.[5] He believed that infinite worlds are generated from apeiron and then they are destroyed there again.[6]

His ideas were influenced by the Greek mythical tradition and by his teacher Thales (7th to 6th century BC). Searching for some universal principle, Anaximander retained the traditional religious assumption that there was a cosmic order and tried to explain it rationally, using the old mythical language which ascribed divine control on various spheres of reality. This language was more suitable for a society which could see gods everywhere; therefore the first glimmerings of laws of nature were themselves derived from divine laws.[7] The Greeks believed that the universal principles could also be applied to human societies. The word nomos (law) may originally have meant natural law and used later to mean man-made law.[8]

Greek philosophy entered a high level of abstraction. It adopted apeiron as the origin of all things, because it is completely indefinite. This is a further transition from the previous existing mythical way of thought to the newer rational way of thought which is the main characteristic of the archaic period (8th to 6th century BC). This shift in thought is correlated with the new political conditions in the Greek city states during the 6th century BC.[9]---

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