By BENJAMIN DE CASSERES
PHILOSOPHY is the keyhole through which the curious may peep into the smithy of the Eternal, where the great iron laws are forged. The philosophy of Benedict de Spinoza is such a keyhole.
The quest for truth is the human fondness for novelty—a highly specialized infantile trait. You must become as little children to set forth on these trackless mental wastes. Like children, you will be buffetted hither and thither by a million impulses. All things must be tried and tested—and cast away. To the mind of a child nothing has been proved, nothing disproved; all paths lie open. There is no evil, no good, that has not the mark of human expediency on it. To the seer and the child there are no dog-ears on the pages of Life’s book; no one has been there before, and it matters not what is written on the page—read, and pass on. All things must be approached in innocence and with a naïve fearlessness. It is literally true that you must become as little children in order to see. Spinoza was of such. He was the Holy Innocent of philosophy, as Blake was the Holy Innocent of art.
I wish to see men, like Spinoza, as lines, planes, bodies and circles and so study them. Still, while I wish to see them thus for purposes of passionless dissection, it must not be forgotten that men are not lines, planes, bodies and circles—that they are living masses of matter in pain, and that there is more logic in their “blasphemies” than in their prayers. It is well we are not all Spinozists—and no one thought so more than the great Jew of Amsterdam himself.
The relation of man to the Great Necessity which is called God is not an ethical relation but is a geometrical one. There is no such thing as Providence; what we mistake for such is cosmic economy.
When the mind first perceives the illusory nature of the heart’s greatest desire, it is at that moment that that mysterious appearance in Time, the individual, has taken his first step along the upper cosmic tracts. Once this glimpse is caught, there is no permanent back-going—there may be lapses to lower levels, a slipping back, but forever and ever the hyper-physical eye shall remember that one glimpse it caught of the Infinite. Once Spinoza had shaken off the yoke of orthodoxy, he was, like Antares, travelling toward the Zenith.
It is at this moment that the larger lust begins. Earth life thenceforward will be a kind of long sickness, with the salt savor of that borderless sea forever stinging the nostrils of the mind, begging it hence and away.
He who believes that good is the end of the universe, tolerate him; he who believes that evil is the end of the universe, respect him; but he who says that ends are myths, follow him! Only God is. All finites are solved in the Essence.
Looking from a very high building down on a great city one is powerfully impressed almost at the first look with the evident absurdity of life. One receives exactly the same impression as he ascends in intelligence. The eye and the mind are here in startling agreement.
Progress defined for the highest mind is a motion away from the centers of motion, an accretion of insight. The active being flows toward his objects; the contemplative being has object flow to him. Spinoza, like Kant, never travelled. He had the universe voyage through him instead of vice versa.
All the waves of Time were held at peace in the lap of his mind, all illusions were held in the pupil of his eye, and the mouth of pain he twisted into a smile. Against the infinite screen of that Self shadows come and go, and the fireflies of knowledge emit their light and fall dead forever, and Chance undulates in countless waves, or swirls and spouts, bearing peoples and nations to the crest, silently dropping them into the hollows of Oblivion. Against the screen of that Self is all this pictured, and each one may see it, for each is that Self. But we are not all Spinozas.
If the objects of the so-called material universe are nothing but states of consciousness, then there is no one particular state of consciousness that has a greater validity than any other state of consciousness. If the mind is merely an interpretive organ—a way of rendering things, a manner in which the individual reduces an aspect of the Great Mystery to some degree of rationality, and if minds differ not only in degree but in kind, then Reality is an individual problem, and my universe is not your universe, my Reality is not your Reality. There are as many laws as there are separate existences.
Huxley tells us about chalk, Plotinus about the Infinite, Swedenborg about angels. Can it be said that Huxley’s interpretation of the images in his mind produced by an utterly unknown object in his hand is an interpretation that comes closer to some central Reality than the interpretation of the images in the mind of Swedenborg produced by some peculiarity of his organism? If the angels were an hallucination, why not the chalk? If Plotinus was the dupe of his images when he believed that twice in his lifetime he had united with the Infinite, so is every being the dupe of his images when he unites himself with the finite. We are no more “rational” than is necessary for our continuance. Those states of consciousness which come from a diseased brain, and which we call insanity, are valid for the insane. Grotesque, fantastic, irrational they may be; but no less grotesque, fantastic, irrational are the actions of all who dwell in the finite to the eye of the Yogi, to the emancipated mind, to the vision of a Spinoza. Delusion and aimlessness are the earmarks of planetary life. One need but look from a height.
Pleasure consists in the passing from a lower perfection to a higher perfection—that is, from a less complete realization of Self to a more complete realization of Self. Its condition is the instinct to eternal rebellion, an undying tendency to negative all seeming finalities.
The mind lives in the Eternal in the degree that it puts aside intent, aim, object. They who shoot at targets never see the heavens. Inveterate swimmers are at last lost in the element they sport with. All intention is proscription and smells of death.
To the contemplative mind one hour is the measure of the life and death of a million suns—one day the hour-glass of all eternity.
The cosmic mind such as the mind of Spinoza can have no evil thoughts; the vilest things can be pictured there and smiled at, as sunlight may lie over a brackish, slimy pool and will none the less be spotless light, or, again, as vile pictures can be shown on a white screen and leave the whiteness untarnished.
To understand a thing thoroughly forever puts that thing beyond the pale of hatred; to love a thing merely is to subject oneself to the possibility of hating that thing. Hence, understanding is the highest thing in the world because it abolishes hate. The emancipated reason of man is the Holy Innocent. This is the sublime essence of Spinoza.
The illusion of good and bad: in the performance of a “good” action the mind is focused on the one effect that it voluntarily desires to bring about, heedless of the law that each act begets a multitude of other acts which have no relation in morals to the primal intention.
Pain is wrought by the intrusion of a personal desire, opinion, or prejudice on the presence of an inexorable law.
Misery is neither social, political nor racial; it is caused by the inability of the individual mind to discriminate between what is its good and what is its not-good. Here Spinoza precedes Stirner. Social evils, so-called, are merely the lumping together of the many ignorances of many minds. Where all are blind all must fall into the ditch. He who can discriminate goes free. The higher the intelligence the finer the powers of discrimination, the more things you reject the freer you will become. All social “remedies” direct us how to get more, not how to be more, how to become more. The rich dominate the poor; as a remedy the poor purpose to dominate the rich—or level them. Wherein lies the difference? The hawk watches the chicken and the chicken watches the worm. That is, in brief, the game of society. Unless you abide in Self you are evil.
Evil is always becoming good; good is always becoming evil. Change is readjustment; and what we mean by eternal change is eternal readjustment. Hence progress is an illusion. For progress presupposes a constant net gain in an eternal process! Which is the same thing as saying that if we pour a peck of peas into another peck measure we have two pecks of peas.
The intellect cannot sin; what is called conscience is a wordy war in the blood—a strictly pathologic symptom; the brain listens to the dispute; and the “still small voice” is born. But the brain may smile and forever be a villain. All things are permitted it. That is the amoralism of Spinoza. It is for the strong.
All future events are decided—the intellect merely reveals the manner of intention. Each to-morrow is already past and, related to eternity, you have already died; related to Time, you still live. God does not know time—and we are all in God.
The thoughts in the brain are nothing but the bodily appetites in another form.
All human development tends to the generation and perpetuation of error, for the more complex man’s activities become the greater the number of illusions it requires to stimulate his diverse activities. If man in his growing complexity were getting nearer and nearer to some great eternal, unifying truth, his activities would decrease as he neared the goal and human life would be characterized by a greater and greater simplicity.
The brain is the flower of organic life, and our thoughts the petals on the flower. The shedding of these petals, the ceaseless dropping, fading of our thoughts, reveals finally the worm in the bud, the nothingness of man and the futility of desire. So Spinoza often watched the fight of spiders. In the Infinite—n’importe.
Emotion is the elemental cosmic fire; intellect the cleansing, soothing waters. Read Spinoza’s “Out of Bondage.”
Herbert Spencer tells us that we cannot get beyond states of mind, thus we can never know the Reality of which mind is a mode of expression. In positing this Reality he has denied the possibility of apprehending it—a contradiction. Spinoza, on the contrary, starts from this Reality—all flows from it. There is a Consciousness that is not a state of mind; it is something immediately given—and in rare moments we know we are that Consciousness. Its presence is not apprehended as a state of mind, it cannot be thought about—indeed, it vanishes the moment we think about it—that is, the moment we have a “state of mind” about it. In these moments we know that all our states of mind—personality itself—are merely a lower activity of that Super-Consciousness. It is not known through thought, but thought is known through it. It is felt as a Presence when there is the least conscious thought in the mind. It is known, apprehended, with a degree of certainty to which a transitory state of mind can never attain. It comes as a supreme Awareness, abolishes, by absorbing Object and Subject, Time and Space. It is the datum of which states of mind are mere infinite data. Spinoza says this is God.
Flee wheresoever we may we cannot escape this Centre. The universe is composed of infinite centres; circumference and diameters are illusions. Endless space is endless centre. All evolution is a movement from centre to centre, because any point bounded on all sides by the infinite must be a centre. “The centre of immensities, the conflux of eternities”—there is nothing conceivable that is not always there—and There is always Here—for other than Here there is naught. We are always in Eternity and are now living our immortality.
The highest kind of action is meditation. As thought is the beginning of all action so it is the end.
Memory may cease, identity may lapse, consciousness may blow out, but Life cannot end, because, according to the Superman of the Jews, there is only one thing that everlastingly is—God!
Source: The International, March 1914, Vol. VIII No. 3, pp. 90-91.