Spirituality Studies 9-1 Spring 2023 15 Samuel Bendeck Sotillos 3 “As Above, So Below” According to traditional thought, the macrocosm and microcosm mirror each other. This is conveyed in the Hermetic maxim: “In truth certainly and without doubt, whatever is below is like that which is above, and whatever is above is like that which is below” (quoted in Burckhardt 1986, 196). All levels of reality exist both within and outside us given our fundamental unity in the Absolute. According to Islamic spirituality, “Man is a little cosmos, and the cosmos is like a big man” (quoted in Ibn ‘Arabī 1975, 11). Not only are we in the cosmos, but the cosmos dwells in us. Similarly, there is a correspondence between the soul and the cosmos, including our posthumous states and consciousness in this life. For in the deepest recesses of the human microcosm there reverberates another world – more real and enduring than this one, yet fully present, here and now, at the very heart of existence. As Muhammad is recorded to have said: “Paradise is closer to you than the thong of your sandal, and the same applies to hell” (quoted in Eaton 1985, 110). The Divine is an irreducible whole that cannot be artificially sundered into disjointed parts – every dimension of existence reflects the whole of Reality, and each realm of cognition is permeable to the whole. If we pay attention to our minds and their fluctuating states, we can see how much of our experience in this life is susceptible to momentary cognitions. Although we cannot underestimate the power of consciousness, we need to also emphasize that “Mind is indeed the source of bondage and also the source of liberation” (Maitrī Upanishad 6:24). Indeed, the tradition of Vedānta – one of the six “perspectives” (Sa. darśana) of Hindu philosophy – teaches that the “mind” (Sa. manas) according to the Vedānta is the by-product of “illusion” (Sa. māyā). The mind cannot know itself through its own efforts, as it requires the agency of what lies beyond the empirical ego in order to do so. Just like the “ordinary” self, consciousness itself cannot be understood at its own level – this is a fundamental issue with which the discipline of modern Western psychology has yet to grapple. Our minds create a dream-like reality that can appear to be quite vivid and all-encompassing, but this is a chimera. In such a state, we are captured by distorting mental fragments that prevent us from discerning the whole, which is why we are often apt to be deceived. For this reason, the life of the mind can become a quagmire of distress and confusion. It ought to be obvious that existence, as a whole, cannot simply be reduced to the functions of our precarious cognition. So, while the mind is unable to create reality as such, our perspective on life can still have a powerful impact on our psycho-physical flourishing. The endemic relativism that has undermined the discipline of modern Western psychology is underscored by American psychologist Carl Rogers (1902–1987): “The only reality I can possibly know is the world as I perceive and experience it at this moment… And the only certainty is that those perceived realities are different. There are as many ‘real worlds’ as there are people!” (1995, 102). A similar view was held by Freud (1989, 217): “Fundamentally, we find only what we need and see only what we want to see.” By expunging the very notion of truth, we become imprisoned in a solipsistic cul-de-sac. As the New Age mantra proclaims: “You create your own reality” (Watkins 2006, 41). For this reason, the French metaphysician René Guénon (1886– 1951) observed that an experience of existence that excludes higher orders of reality can only give rise to “The Illusion of ‘Ordinary Life’” (2004, 101). Our thinking about the world and ourselves is rooted in our state of mind, which is situated in a particular individual perspective. This varies, from moment to moment, in each person. Our thoughts can also conflict among themselves. Without an awareness of this, our attention is often diffused outwardly into the world, and we lose touch with our sacred center – which is a direct reflection of Reality. It is through a comprehensive “science of the soul,” as taught by spiritual traditions, that we can distinguish the psychic from the Spiritual, as well as the relative from the Absolute. According to the Māndūkya Upanishad (1:1:4): “Two kinds of knowledge must be known – that is what the knowers of Brahman tell us. They are the Higher Knowledge and the lower knowledge.” This discrimination cannot be found in modern Western psychology, as it has rejected its metaphysical and spiritual foundations. 4 Liberation and Bondage Throughout all spiritual traditions, we find examples of how both heaven and hell – and everything in between – are present within the human psyche. The Anglican divine William Law (1686–1761) writes: “There cannot be the smallest Thing, or the smallest Quality of any Thing in this World, but what is a Quality of Heaven or Hell, discovered under a temporal Form” (1893, 116). The English poet John Milton (1608–1674) confirmed this in his famous poem, Paradise Lost: “The mind is