“We can only love what we know, and we can never know completely what we do not love. Love is a mode of knowledge…” Aldous Huxley
The Secret Bench of Knowledge – A sculpture by Czech-born Canadian sculptor Lea Vivot – image from Vlastula’s photo-stream on Flickr
The image above caught my eye and my heart as I contemplated the subject of the title of this post. It is a sculpture of two young people who appear to be seated in front of the National Library of Canada building in Ottawa, who seem very much to have a love interest of some sort, and the young man is holding an apple, suggesting a reference to the original apple from the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden. Huxley’s claim that we can only love what we know, resonated for me personally, as I recently began to contemplate just why it is that I feel the way I do about such connections of both knowing and loving. Aldous Huxley is considered by many to be the original author of a very particular idea, called “The Perennial Philosophy.
According to the article in Wikipedia, “The Perennial Philosophy” is essentially an anthology of short passages taken from traditional Eastern texts and the writings of Western mystics, organized by subject and topic, with short connecting commentaries. In my edition of the “Bhagavad-Gita,” which is “a 700–verse Hindu scripture that is part of the ancient Sanskrit epic Mahabharata,” Aldous Huxley wrote the introduction, and outlined the four fundamental doctrines of perennial philosophy:
1. The phenomenal world of matter and of individualized consciousness–the world of things and animals and men and even gods–is the manifestation of a Divine Ground within which all partial realities have their being, and apart from which they would be non-existent.
2. Human beings are capable not merely of knowing about the Divine Ground by inference; they can also realize its existence by a direct intuition, superior to discursive reasoning. This immediate knowledge unites the know-er with that which is known.
3. Man possesses a double nature, a phenomenal ego and an eternal Self, which is the inner man, the spirit, the spark of divinity within the soul. It is possible for a man, if he so desires, to identify himself with the spirit and therefore with the Divine Ground, which is of the same or like nature with the spirit.
4. Man’s life on earth has only one end and purpose: to identify himself with his eternal Self and so to come to unitive knowledge of the Divine Ground.
Regardless of whatever cultural or spiritual influences we are exposed to during our lifetime, even if the subject of a spiritual component to life never comes up at all in our education, at some point, there will be an experience of unbridled joy or terror, a traumatic event, a brush with death, a profound and lasting impression from any number of joyful or sorrowful experiences, and depending on our level of intuitive inclinations, we begin to suspect that there may be something more to life than just what our senses and brains reveal to us.
Our human mind and brain are inextricably linked by both biology and psychology. Our species was able to expand and develop our access to consciousness from a merely functional level to one which now allows us to project our thoughts far beyond the physical or primal mindset of ancient times. At some point, human beings (hominids) crossed over a threshold from primal instinct and the necessities of survival, to self awareness and introspection. The capacity for self awareness by itself was only enough to begin the process of developing a fuller access to a comprehensive experiential awareness.
In his book, “The Neanderthal’s Necklace: In Search of the First Thinkers,” Juan Luis Arsuaga, a professor in the Paleontology Department of the Faculty of Geological Sciences at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, points out that our ancestors (modern humans) coexisted with Neanderthals for at least 10,000 years. While archeological evidence points to Neanderthals demonstrating rudimentary tool-making and burying their dead in caves, “so far, no one has presented any definitive proof of ritual or other symbolic behavior before the time of Cro-Magnon in the Upper Paleolithic.” The reasons for their apparent deficiencies in cognitive skills were at least “partly demographic,” as their group size was too small to develop a “full cultural identity,” and partly because of “their lack of fully developed syntactical language.”
Access to a fully developed consciousness, seems to require the ability to “transcend” the awareness of our physical environment, as well as to be able to make a firm connection between physical reality and the many abstractions which are represented in the tangible manifestations of those ideas and concepts. Modern Homo sapiens were simply the first to be able to exploit their cognitive and social capacities, and the evidence seems to point to a “dramatic genetic change in brain function,” that gave modern humans the edge.
As the ancient cave paintings in Lascaux, France and elsewhere show, even our earliest Cro-Magnon ancestors, while conscious enough to report their experiences in cave paintings, were not able to fully express their consciousness, and only beginning to be introspective. These early humans were concerned with the most compelling of their experiences, and felt the need to express them in a demonstrative way. Their ability to create images from their experiences and attribute meaning to those symbolic images, was a quantum leap that began the unfolding of our access to ever-increasing levels of consciousness.
The uncertainty of what we are able to conclude at this point is sufficient to leave the door open to the idea of an “inner evolution;” a dramatic change in the attainment of increasingly higher levels of access to consciousness over thousands of years, and to other more complex notions of what might constitute a spiritual capacity within us which supports and provides essential input to the unraveling mystery that is life.
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…..more to come…