THE ONE AND THE MANY
(This essay is dedicated to Ralph Pred, mentor and friend, who taught me almost everything I know and who would probably disagree with almost everything in this essay. Thank you, Ralph.)
The job of philosophy is to account for the details of experience. How can it be that the world we know is the way it is? For this, Western philosophy has traditionally relied on the interplay of two distinct ‘substances’: God and world, spirit and matter, mind and body. This approach is known as ‘dualism’ and the challenge for dualists is to explain how two completely distinct substances can actually interact.
Other systems have attempted to account for the world in terms of a single substance. This is called ‘monism’ and the challenge for monists is to account for the incredible variety of our experience.
From time to time, a philosopher or theologian proposes ‘a third way’, designed to overcome both challenges. In the 20th century, Jean-Paul Sartre and Alfred North Whitehead among others offered ‘third way’ solutions; but in the late 18th century Rabbi Schneur Zalman had already proposed a solution eerily similar to Whitehead’s.
In his great work of systematic philosophy, Process and Reality, Whitehead identified three ultimate notions inherent in the concept of Being: One, Many, Creativity. Creativity is the process by which the one become many and the many become one.
There is one ‘substance’, creativity, but two perfectly distinct modes of expression: unification and diversification. Creativity reflects the simultaneous desire of the many to become one and of the one to become many.
There is an unmistakable Trinitarian aspect to this. Being is simultaneously One, Many and Creativity just as God is simultaneously Father, Son and Spirit. Creativity ‘proceeds’ from the One and the Many much as Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son (Nicene Creed).
The world is a ‘multiplicity’ of events (which Whitehead called ‘actual entities’). Ultimately, only actual entities ‘exist’. Everything else exists as a property of an actual entity. Each actual entity is a fully integrated bud of pure experience. Although it can be analyzed, it cannot be divided.
An actual entity comes to be what it comes to be through a process Whitehead called ‘concrescence’. The concrescent process occurs in stages but there is nothing within an actual entity that corresponds to our concept of ‘time’.
Each actual entity (unity) becomes what it becomes by conceptually and physically ‘prehending’ the attributes of other actual entities (plurality) and by integrating those inputs into a unique synthesis (unity). Once that synthesis is complete (unity), the actual entity becomes part of the multiplicity (plurality) and is available for ingression into other, emerging actual entities (unity).
Each actual entity is the product of its prehensions of actual entities and a constituent in the concrescences of other actual entities. Thus, actual entities are ordered hierarchically as well as a sequentially.
The ultimate nature of ‘creativity’ demands that this process be without limitation. Therefore, there must ultimately be one actual entity that is prehended by every other actual entity (‘Primordial’) and one actual entity that prehends every other actual entity (‘Consequent’).
According to this logic, Consequent must prehend Primoridal. Therefore, Primordial and Consequent are not two actual entities but one, which Whitehead calls ‘God’. Primordial and Consequent are the two ‘Natures’ of this ultimate actual entity.
In Whitehead’s system every actual entity incorporates God as God incorporates every actual entity. While it is true to say that God created the world, logically it is just as true to say that the world created God. God is not an exception to Whitehead’s ontological scheme; he is its inevitable logical conclusion.
Creativity gives rise to novel actual entities. According to Genesis, the logical state of the world prior to creative advance is “void and without form”. Creativity fills that void with a desire to incorporate the positive values operative in the Primordial Nature and a yearning to make a positive impact on the final matter of eternal fact, the Consequent Nature.
Thanks to universal creativity, this desire and this yearning coax ‘actual entities’ out of that void. All actual entities share a common origin (Primordial Nature) and a common destination (Consequent Nature). Yet each actual entity is a perfectly free and independent whole. As such, each actual entity charts its own unique path between its origin and its destination. Ultimately, each actual entity makes a unique contribution to the universe; this is called its ‘superject’.
Each actual entity is responsible for its own ‘concrescence’: the prehensive selections it makes, the degree of intensity it assigns to each, and the ‘subjective form’ with which it clothes each such selection. As subject, every actual entity inevitably becomes aware of itself. This introduces a new focus, the self, which often diverts the original trajectory of the concrescence.
Ab initio, every actual entity shares a common origin and a common destiny. Yet the resultant superjects often conflict dramatically with one another.
The Consequent Nature prehends the Primordial values and the superjects of every other actual entity. Guided solely by those Primordial values, the Consequent Nature incorporates each contribution with an appropriate degree of intensity and with an appropriate subjective form. Ultimately, the task of the Consequent Nature is to harmonize input from all other actual entities to create an integrated, harmonious and indivisible whole, consistent with the Primordial values.
One hundred and fifty years earlier, in Tanya, a foundational work of Hasidic Judaism (1771 – 1797), Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liada wrote:
God is One and Unique, unchanging and without end…God is the one Life present in all life.
In his commentary on Tanya, Rabbi Shapiro wrote: “The theology of Tanya is nondual; that is, the One and the many have to be reconciled in a greater Whole. This is done by envisioning God as dynamic rather than static. God does not change from one thing to another. God is change that makes one thing and another.”
In pre-Socratic philosophy, Parmenides is recognized as the ‘apostle of permanence’, while Heraclitus is seen as the ‘champion of change’. In Tanya, as well as in Process and Reality, permanence and change are flip sides of a single process: creativity.
The Primordial Nature is by definition unchangeable; it is what it is eternally and by God’s will it cannot be other than it is. The Consequent Nature, on the other hand, is continuous change, perpetually incorporating novel actual entities and harmonizing the contributions of each into the whole. Yet the Primordial and the Consequent Natures are one actual entity (God): the one becoming many and the many becoming one.
Rabbi Shapiro: “YHVH, the four-letter Hebrew Name of God, represents the transcendent, and Elohim represents the immanent…YHVH is Elohim. Elohim is a plural noun meaning ‘gods’…Elohim is the One manifest as the many…YHVH refers to God’s essential unity.”
To attain true joy, contemplate God permeating all things. Realize that this world is nothing but divine glory and that all things are empty when seen from the perspective of God. God is the sole reality, and wherever you look it is God and God alone.
This is not pantheism but panentheism. God is not the ‘forms’ themselves but the content of those forms.
Rabbi Shapiro: “To say that one thing is God while another is not is to place a limit on God that reduces God to god. We are in the habit of saying that God is in heaven, or God is in me, but the greater truth is that heaven and earth, you and all creation, are in God and of God…”
The purpose of all creation: that the One should dwell as the many.
Rabbi Shapiro: “…Realize the true nature of reality as the outpouring of divine creativity.”
It is not just ‘the purpose of all creation’ but the essence of creation itself. God (unity) creates the world (multiplicity) and endows that world, those entities, with total, radical freedom. The One that is everything becomes as nothing; yet it fills everything.
Christianity takes this a step further. God-the-one is not only God-the-many, but via Incarnation also One-among-many. (“And the Word (logos) became flesh and dwelt among us.” John 1:14) As the many, God is the Kingdom of Heaven; as the One, God is Christ.
All beings have their essence and root in divine wisdom.
The Jewish concept of Wisdom (Sophia) is closely related to the Christian concept of Word (Logos). According to Proverbs, Wisdom plays a critical role in God’s creative process; according to John, Logos plays a similar role.
Rabbi Shapiro: “This wisdom is already within you, indeed it is you.”
Wisdom rests within all things, as it is written, “God founded the earth in wisdom” and “In wisdom you have made them all.” Further, wisdom fills all life, as it is written, “Wisdom gives life to those who possess it.”…Wisdom reveals the Presence of God.
Rabbi Shapiro: “Everything from quarks to quasars has its own level of consciousness, its own innate wisdom and intelligence.”
Rabbi Shapiro: “All people are innately capable of intuiting the unity of God manifest as the multiplicity of creation. This capability is called…wisdom…The challenge is not to earn wisdom, but to access the wisdom already inside you.”
Perceiving nothing but themselves, they proclaim themselves gods, saying, “I am, and there is nothing besides me.” Thus arrogance is the heart of idolatry. But arrogance is rooted in delusion, for there is nothing but God.
Rabbi Shapiro: “God’s nonduality necessitates the existence of a multiplicity of ‘I am’…The problem is not that you say, ‘I am’, but that you mistakenly assume ‘there is nothing besides me’.”
Solipsism is the belief that I am all alone in the universe. It entails a rejection of ‘other minds’ and, in my view at least, is a species of nihilism.
The characteristic ontology of the post-Enlightenment period runs something like this: “I came to be, I am interacting with others and the world, and one day I will cease to be.” Others and the world are reduced to elements in our transient and transitory experience. Effectively, this is solipsism, this is nihilism. This is also the arrogance of idolatry: there is nothing besides me…when in fact there is nothing besides God. We have it exactly wrong.
No wonder we live in a culture of alienation and angst. While we might not state it this way, we live our lives as though we were all alone in the universe: “I am, and there is nothing beside me.” How terrifying! We are choosing to live life as if we were already in Hell. (C.S. Lewis: The Great Divorce)
Rabbi Shapiro: “You are like a person dying of thirst who sits next to a tall glass of cool, fresh water. So convinced are you that there is no water, you completely ignore the reality right in front of you…It is the same with God’s oneness. As soon as you realize the Presence of God in and as all things, including yourself, your sense of separation and the anxiety it produces are gone…You realize you are God calling to God.”
Psalm 23: “Even though I walk through the valley of death, I will fear no evil for you (God) are with me.”
When you live Torah, speak Torah, and think Torah, you are fully alive. Living Torah is love, for the positive practices (the 613 mizvot of Torah) are grounded in love, and living them is loving God, for God and Torah are one.
Jesus: “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)
Rabbi Shapiro: “Live Torah by doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly.” (Micah 6:8)
In Judaism, Torah (‘the law’ or ‘the way’) has a role similar to Whitehead’s Primordial values. When you remain focused on those Primordial values (mizvot) and let them guide your actions, you are ‘fully alive’ and you ‘love’.
Rabbi Shapiro: “The way of the inbetweener (actual entity) is the way of Torah, doing mizvot to realize the unity of all worlds in the singular reality of God.”
To the extent that the superject of an actual entity reflects the values of the Primordial Nature, it makes a positive contribution to the Consequent Nature. The ‘inbetweener’ is co-redeemer of the world. We find the same concept of co-redemption in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
When you think a thought, you are greater than that thought. But when that thought is of Torah, which is rooted in God (and is God), that thought is greater than you, and you become absorbed into the thought, and in this way you and God are one.
The same concept is at work in the Christian doctrine of Eucharist. The communicant ingests the body and blood of Christ in the form of a wafer of bread and a sip of wine but what actually happens is that the communicant is incorporated into Christ’s Mystical Body.
Everything has its opposite, as it is written ‘God has created one thing and the other’…Yet even the other side is necessary…that the other might come to know the One.
Rabbi Shapiro: “God has no choice but to be God, and being God means manifesting everything and its opposite.”
Still, the opposite of a mizvah “is not, in and of itself, evil”. After all, all actual entities arise from a common desire for what they judge to be good.
Per Augustine, the opposite of ‘good’ is not ‘evil’ but the absence of good. Nothing can be purely evil because Being itself is good. Pure evil therefore cannot exist. Furthermore, all actual entities have a common origin and a common destiny. So when Tanya speaks of the ‘opposite’ or ‘the other’, it is understood that there is an ultimate limit (God) to such otherness.
The wicked is the antithesis of the righteous, for the one is obsessed with self while the other is free from self. Yet not everyone who succumbs to evil does so to the same degree.
Nothing succumbs to evil totally and permanently.
Rabbi Shapiro: “Refraining from anger and offering kindness to everyone are how you live the way of the inbetweener.”
The role of the inbetweener, the actual entity, is to make a contribution to God’s Consequent Nature consistent with the values of his Primordial Nature. When the actual entity remains focused on its origin and its destiny, it acts selflessly and the arrow hits its mark. But as the actual entity shifts focus to itself, it begins to act more selfishly. The trajectory of the arrow is altered and it misses its mark…but only by some degree.
Our Sages teach, “Without God’s help the evil inclination could not be overcome.”
Pure selfishness would be a black hole. It would totally cut us off from the rest of the world. But our twin focus on God’s Primordial and Consequent Natures keeps us on a trajectory that, if not perfectly straight, at least avoids annihilation. On the other hand:
The inclination toward selflessness is ‘a part of God above’.
Whenever a passion arises that draws you toward evil (self), say to yourself, “This is the way of the wicked that will separate me from God.”
Total separation from God, if possible, would be the equivalent of non-being.
Rabbi Shapiro: “Sin arises from selfishness. Selfishness arises from a sense of fear and scarcity.”
Spiritually, we go into a defensive crouch. We see the world and others as threats rather than aids. We see community as competitive rather that cooperative. We retreat from interdependence to independence and ultimately to isolation.
Rabbi Shapiro: “Your sense of independence is absorbed into the larger sense of interdependence, and both dissolve into the nonduality of God as the only true reality.”
“Torah and God are entirely one”…Thus when your hand distributes funds to the poor, it becomes the hand of God and a vehicle of godliness.”
Similarly, Jesus said, “But when you do merciful deeds, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand it doing.” (Matthew 6:3)
Rabbi Shapiro: “The ultimate challenge of Torah is to ‘be holy as I YHVH am holy’…Knowing this, we engage the world justly, kindly and humbly. Torah is a way for us to discover who we are and what we are to do.”
Creation is the interplay of opposites. The highest realm of godliness is balanced by the “other side” of selfishness, and just as the first reveals unity, the latter reveals diversity.
Rabbi Shapiro: “What God wills is to be God. To be God means to manifest the myriad potentialities of life…God cannot be limited to those things we call spiritual…God does not choose between opposites. There is no choice in God. God cannot choose to be other than God, and therefore God cannot choose to be other than the Whole. Created in the image and likeness of God, you too contain opposites. Your task is not to eliminate one side or the other, but to lift both in service of the Whole. This means overcoming the ignorance of separateness as a way that allows the self to be for itself and others at the same time.”
The blessed Endless One permeates all reality, yet the forms it takes forget their true nature and fall prey to the delusion of alienation. This is called the Exile of the Schechinah.
Typically, as an actual entity (inbetweener) becomes aware of itself, it begins to substitute its own values for the Primordial values and its own goals for the Consequent Nature. However, as Rabbi Shapiro points out, it is possible for an actual entity to assume the identity of a servant of God. In that case the actual entity can serve itself and others simultaneously.
Loving your neighbor as yourself reveals the unity of neighbor and self, for no one is separate from another, and all beings are equal, having a single source in the One who is all…Torah’s sole purpose is to remove the veils of diversity to reveal the divine unity, that you might then love the One by loving the many.
Rabbi Shapiro: “Performing selfless acts of kindness is a direct path to God-realization, for it reveals the unity of self and other in, with, and as God…Torah doesn’t say, ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself’…Loving another as yourself moves you beyond self to soul, beyond the isolated ego that sees self and other as apart from God, to the integrated soul that sees self and other as a part of God.”
Love God, love your neighbor, love yourself! We imagine that these three imperatives are in conflict. Far from it! They are one and the same.
Jesus: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” (Matthew 22:35 – 40)
Acts of kindness are the light the self brings to the world. This is the “it” you are commanded to do (Duet. 30:14)
Rabbi Shapiro: “In the world of action, only action matters. Feeling is not enough. Thinking is not enough. You must act. And when you act well, your actions illumine the world.”
The heart of one mirrors the heart of another. As love between friends circles from one to the other in an endless round, so too the love of God.
It is Love that stops time or rather overcomes it. Love is Presence. True love “circles from one to the other in an endless round.” We take it for granted that Love “circles from one to the other in an endless round’ in the Blessed Trinity. We forget that we too participate in the Trinitarian process. Love between an individual and his neighbor can circle from one to the other in an endless round. Likewise, love between an inbetweener and God. We too have the power to realize Presence…we too can overcome time.