“It is in the deep mind that wilderness and the unconscious become one, and in some half-understood but very profound way, our relation to the outer ecologies seems conditioned by our inner ecologies. This is a metaphor, but it is also literal.”
~ Gary Snyder
I recently came across a description of a 4th-century Christian theological debate - regarding the precise nature of the Trinity - which brought to mind the way that Taoism understands the relationship between the Tao (the unmanifest ground of being) and the ten-thousand things (i.e. manifest phenomena). In Christian terms, the issue at hand was the relationship between Jesus (the manifest) and God the Father (the unmanifest). More specifically, the question being debated was: Is Jesus the literal or merely the figurative/metaphoric son of God?
The two main players in this debate were (1) Athanasius - a Christian theologian renowned as the “father of Orthodoxy”; and (2) Arius - a Christian pastor/priest.
Arius’ position - which became known, among his adversaries, as the “Arian heresy” - was that Christ (the Son) was of a distinct substance from the Father. In other words: Jesus was merely the figurative son of God. He represented God, was God’s messenger, but - in the way that a king’s courier himself is not of royal blood - was not of one essence with God.
Athanasius’ position was that Jesus was indeed the literal son of God, in the sense that Father and Son were “of one essence” (consubstantial). In affirming this position, Athanasius wrote, “God became man so that men might become gods” and “The Word became flesh ... that we, partaking of his Spirit, might be deified.”
The arbiter of the debate - at that time at least - was the First Council of Nicaea (in present-day Turkey), which concluded that that “Christ is the one true God in deity with the Father.” In other words, Athanasius’ position held sway: the Father and the Son were deemed equal in essence.
Without knowing all the details of this debate, it seems to me paradoxical, and rather ironic, that Athanasius’s position -- so resonant with a mystical sensibility, which sees Divinity within all manifest beings -- would have been the reigning orthodox Christian position.
But of course few take seriously the step of extrapolating from the Divinity of Jesus - his equality in essence to the Father/God, expressed within and through his humanity - to the Divinity of all humans, not to mention of all manifest phenomena. But this defines exactly the relationship between Tao and the ten-thousand things, a la Taoist cosmology: every manifest phenomena partakes equally of, and is equally an expression of, the Tao.
The Son points to the Father, in the way that a finger points to the moon. Jesus reminds us of our Divinity, so in this sense could indeed be considered as a metaphor of the Divine. But at the same time, Jesus is equal in essence to God. The finger not only points to the moon, but quite literally is the moon.
Or, in the language of Taoism: the ten-thousand things point to the Tao, in the way that a finger points to the moon. They remind us of our Divinity, in a way that perhaps at first is merely figurative. But at the same time, and most deeply, the ten-thousand-things are equal in essence to the Tao. The finger not only points to the moon, but is the moon.
Or, in the language of Buddhism: the relative points to the Absolute, in the way that a finger points to the moon. Relative phenomena (at least potentially) remind us of our Absolute nature. But at the same time, relative phenomena are none other than the Absolute. The finger points to the moon not only by pointing to the moon, but also by revealing itself as not-separate from it.
Existential equality (our shared Divinity) and functional hierarchy (the dance of the manifest world, with its varying patterns of appearance) co-exist, all-ways and always.
Belovèd, when my spirit has departed,
Lose no tears for me;
For, where I linger, there is peace,
And I am bathed in lasting day.
Where all earthly sorrow has faded,
Your image will not leave me
And for the soothing of your wounds,
For your pain, will be my prayer.
Peace flutters its Seraph's wings
Over the wider nocturnal world.
So, think no more of my burial mound:
For, it is from stars that I greet you.
~ Annette von Droste-Hülshoff (trans. David Paley)
The ten-thousand things are continuously arising from and dissolving back into the Tao. To mourn their passing is to be focused on their phenomenal “burial ground” (no more than a memory trace) when, in actuality, “it is from the stars” that they now greet us, as us. Is (metaphoric and literal) resurrection anything other than realizing this, directly?