SYMBOLS AND VALUES
In the preceding chapters I have stressed the fundamental importance of the concept of the cycle, a concept which gives universal scope and meaning to the order and periodicity which we find inherent in existence the moment we consider it objectively. I have defined time as a function of cyclic evolution through which what is potential in the release of an original creative impulse gradually becomes more differentiated and complex through a twofold process of actualization of latent relationships. In the beginning of the cycle the release of energy and structural potentialities, of power and basic forms of existence, operates compulsively; but throughout the long process of differentiation, specialization and refinement, and under the influence of unceasing inter-existential relationships, consciousness takes ever more definite forms in progressively more complex and more individually structured minds.
The individualization of consciousness occurs under the direction of individual egos which in turn are moulded by the intellectual and cultural structures of the society in which they take particular forms. As much of the time the ego does not succeed in emerging from these collective matricial structures, it cannot evaluate them objectively. The ego remains mostly their creature, passively taking them for granted. As long as this is the case and as long as the ego controls the totality, or near-totality, of the conscious reactions of a human being — his modes of thinking, his everyday feeling responses and his customary behavior — this human being can hardly be considered an autonomous individual. He is merely one of the many elements which together constitute a particular community; and this community, small and local or national in scope, is structured by a definite culture, an organized religion, a special type of morality, a certain way of life. These collective structures are essentially related to the special geographical and bio-psychic conditions surrounding their slow growth; human beings are not only related to their birth-environment and specific bio-psychical inheritances but they are usually deeply and passionately attached to them. They are proud of these collective roots and fiercely defensive when their validity is questioned.
All forms of established collective behavior and cultural-religious beliefs are structured by groups of symbols; but there are also symbols which refer only to the individual person. Symbols are indeed found in every area of human existence. But what precisely do we mean by this term, symbol, which today is being used perhaps more extensively and ambiguously than at any other time in human history? Directly defining its meaning is not a simple task, because this meaning is so pervasive and the word is used in such varied frames of reference that one can hardly define it without implying by the definition one's basic philosophy.
In terms of the approach to existence which I am presenting in this book, a symbol is the answer given by a person or a community of persons, and in some instances by humanity-as-a-whole, to a group of experiences or situations which, diverse as they may appear when considered individually, when seen as a whole reveal an existential need which the evolution of the consciousness of this person or this community demands to be met and satisfied. The need may be only personal; the most significant dreams of an individual are symbols answering to his psychological needs, and in most cases only to the needs of this individual. Most characteristically, however, a symbol is an answer to a collective need; it provides, at least potentially, the solution to a problem affecting at least a section of humanity or a certain type of human being. This solution is more or less essential to the well-being of this group; it is communicable and it elicits a reaction from the community, whether in the area of religion, of culture, or of socio-political and economic behavior.
Let us take the image of the Buddha in his characteristic posture of meditation, an image reproduced in Asia many millions of times throughout the last twenty centuries. This image is based upon the actions and the weltanschauung or attitude to life of a particular person, Gautama; but the immense and lasting influence of such a personage can only be explained, from an existential point of view, by the fact that Gautama focused and embodied in his personality and in his radiance of spirit an essential answer to the collective need of the Asiatic people. At a certain time in the evolution of these people, the image of the meditating Buddha came to represent the ultimate solution to the problem of human existence.
The Christian crucifix is likewise the symbol of an existential attitude which the people of the Western world believed, and many still believe, to be a fundamental answer to the "human condition" as they understood and deeply felt its nature at the time — that is, as a temporal and impermanent state of crisis which could only be successfully and significantly met by means of a total sacrifice, thanks to which, and to it alone, man could experience a transcendent resurrection in the "other world," the realm of pure spirit. The Mediterranean people at the beginning of the Christian era evidently needed such a solution, and Jesus' life became transformed into a symbol pointing to the possibility of satisfying this need. This life was made into a mythos. It was imitated and reproduced an infinite number of times by and for the members of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches under the abstract form of the ritual of the Mass, and also in various rites and festivals of the liturgical year.
A symbol is an abstraction in the sense that it is an image, or a sequence of images and actions, drawn out, i.e., ab-stracted, from a certain number of actual facts which are or have been essential parts of the lives of human beings. Here however we have to use the word, image, in its broadest sense. Some symbols appear to be entirely intellectual images or concepts; nevertheless they are made up of elements which once were abstractions of human experiences and feeling-responses. In the origin of words, and even in the letters of our alphabet and the shapes of our numbers, we can find forms which, long ago, referred to existential activities and images. We have forgotten these archaic connections, just as we have forgotten the onomatopoeic origin of the basic words used in ancient tongues, or even the relationship existing between the sounds of vowels and consonants and certain bio-psychic structures of the human organism; nevertheless these connections between what now appear to be purely conventional "signs" and original human experiences are often not only real but most revealing.
A language should be considered as a complex group of symbols inasmuch as, with its special words and forms of syntax, it answers to a basic need of humanity: the need for communication. The algebraic formulas used in modern chemistry, mathematics and physics are similarly definite answers to the need, not only to communicate precise forms of knowledge from generation to generation, but more generally still, to establish on solid and secure foundations a sense of the order inherent in all existence; and man must have such a sense of order if he is to retain his sanity. All human cultures are means of conveying to particular types of human beings a specific feeling and intellectual realization that they live in a world of order.
I stated that the symbol is an abstraction in the sense that it is an image, or a sequence of images and actions, "drawn out" from a certain number of actual facts which are or have been essential components of human experience. As the term, abstraction, is susceptible of various interpretations, let us try to see clearly in what way symbols differ from facts.
A fact is what it is particularly and exclusively as a fact; it can be described and recorded in such a manner that, at least theoretically speaking, its precise character is not open to doubt. That is to say, everyone fulfilling the specific conditions required for the perception of this particular fact can identify it from its description. When the geometrician draws a circle on paper he sees in it the exteriorization of the relationship between a central point and the mathematical locus constituted by an infinity of other points which together make up the circumference of the circle. When one reads the exact technical description of a series of operations needed for the construction of a machine, these operations have a strictly objective character and may be repeated identically forever. In a sense we might also say that "facts" belong to the category of rational entities: these entities can be precisely defined inasmuch as the definition implies all that they are not — that is, the definition essentially excludes other conceptual entities.
On the other hand when one deals with a symbol one is in the presence of something that goes beyond the rational and the factual, something that is more than it is, because the symbol describes not only what it appears to be rationally and objectively, but also the relationship between a specific human need and the possibility of satisfying this need. When in an ancient magical ritual the performer of the rite traced a circle around himself with a spear or a sword, this action had a symbolical character. The magician did not think of the geometrical and rationalistic formula defining the relationship between the radius and the circumference; instead he focused the energy of his life-force and his will upon a psychological and "magical" process of isolation, of psychic protection and integration. Also if a Catholic or a Buddhist believer contemplates the golden haloes around the heads of saints or buddhas, he is not impressed by the geometrical character of these circular forms, but he is deeply and emotionally moved by the greatness and radiant purity of the state of sanctity symbolized by such a halo. Likewise when a priest celebrates mass, his gestures have a quality and a power essentially different from those of a workingman putting together the parts of an automobile engine. The priest's gestures are symbolic because they evoke a resonance in the innermost being of those who believe in their ritualistic efficacy and in the value to humanity of the ancient facts evoked and perpetuated by these gestures. His actions are symbolic because they are an answer to the psychological need which is one of the dominant features of the particular phase of human evolution which is represented by the Christian era.
The same thing could be said of any truly religious symbol, archaic or modern. An image or gesture, a consecrated object or sacred ritual are symbols for persons who feel themselves fundamentally related to the culture which produced these symbols, and who resonate to the basic rhythm of the evolution of humanity as a whole; the symbol relates a vast number of living human beings to a particular phase of the cyclic process of unfoldment of both mankind and the planet, Earth. Thus the symbol has both an existential aspect — because it moves human minds and souls — and a structural aspect — because it identifies the need arising from a particular phase of the evolutionary cycle.
As a structural factor, the symbol has an objective and predictable character; it concretizes a value characterizing a particular and inevitable phase of the cycle. It represents a particular way in which the human species becomes conscious of activities and events which it must experience during a specific era. The meditating Buddha and the crucified Christ symbols not only express but may also initiate or intensify two different modes of feeling and of becoming aware of the basic meaning of the relationship between man and his earthly life. Each symbol corresponds to a specific historical period and to a specific state of development of the collective evolution of man's consciousness. This evolution proceeds according to a cyclic and dialectical rhythm; it proceeds in different ways in different earth-localities giving rise to different cultures.
Yet symbols also have a strictly existential aspect, for they can be referred to an immense variety of personal experiences and situations vivid with an immediacy of feeling. The symbol evokes a response yet does not limit or actually predetermine it. It cannot be considered an element in rationalistic thinking because it goes beyond such type of thinking. It cannot impose strictly defined forms of behavior or feeling-response upon the persons emotionally moved by its contemplation. The symbol refers rather to the potentiality of collective or personal reactions to a category of situations having some essential features in common, yet leading to existential results at one of several levels of consciousness and variously affecting diverse types of human beings.
A symbol gives us no strictly particular information concerning the events to which it may give a decisive impulse. It can refer to a cosmic process, to a social or religious activity or a drama of consciousness and a personal crisis, or to an organic function of the human body. Moreover, it may either operate or not, for its transforming influence depends not only on the fact that it answers to an essential need in the development of human consciousness, but just as much on the capacity of human beings to react and respond to what it brings to their attention, whether this reaction is conscious or not. The symbol releases a potential of evolutionary transformation, of emotional and intellectual dynamism, but nothing warrants thatthis potential will be factually, existentially actualized. Likewise the character and quality of this actualization is not defined by the symbol, it is conditioned by the nature of the individual and collective response of human beings. The royal crown and scepter are symbols of authority and of social power, but they do not define the character of this or that king who uses them, or the loyalty and respect of his subjects. These symbolic and sacred objects express the structure of the activities derived from the relationship.
When one says that a symbol has to be interpreted it means that one has to ascertain the existential contents which fill the structural container, the symbol. The symbol physically or intellectually relates him who contemplates it to a vast possibility of activities or events which are evidently of concern to this person so long as he is physically or emotionally moved by what emanates from the symbol. To discover the meaning of the symbol is to discover what in the nature of the onlooker has need of the potentiality of action or understanding implied in the symbol. For instance, to discover the meaning of a significant dream is to come into existential contact with the structure of events which will help the actualization of that which in the psyche was thus far only an unconscious potentiality — but a potentiality dynamized by a deep movement for personal fulfillment inherent in the self of the person.
Paul's experience on the road to Damascus is an example of such a situation. He was representative of a large number of human beings who were then in an ambiguous psychological state as a result of the conflict between the values of the old Mediterranean world and the new universal civilization which the Roman Empire was making possible. Saul (Paul) embodied this dualism, being both a Hebrew and a Roman citizen. He could have considered his experience on a purely existential level and attributed to it very natural or strictly psychological causes. But he understood the profound meaning of the Christ symbol and could see in it not only an answer to his own need as one person shaken by a 'revelation'. He therefore referred his interpretation of his experience to a social and religious situation which reached far beyond his own personality, thus integrating it into a vast historical process. Paul felt himself to be the agent for a potential transformation of humanity at that time. He gave to the Christ of whom he had become intensely conscious — a Christ who differed greatly indeed from the existential Jesus whose words and very simple actions are recorded in the Gospels — a structural and historical meaning. He dramatized the life of Jesus and made of it the symbol of a radical crisis indicating the transformation of human consciousness from one state to another. Thanks to him and to the apostles who accepted his vision, the life of Jesus became a turning point in human evolution; in them the symbol became action and power to act.
Is it true that the life of Jesus was the essential turning point in the evolution of human consciousness? From an existential point of view one cannot speak of absolute truth. One can nevertheless realize that a turning point in history occurred at the time Jesus lived, and one can say that the power to act inherent in his life, when transformed into the symbol and manifestation of new values, gave a basically new character to the collective mentality of large segments of humanity and, at least indirectly, to the entire Mind of Man. In this sense the Christ symbol — and before it, the Buddha symbol should be considered as manifestations of critical phases in the cycle of mankind and of the planet, Earth.
The power of symbols is often immense. It is the very power of the process of human evolution. This power acts through men who condense it and who at the same time extract from the evolutionary crises confronting them new values and symbols which, externalizing these values in striking and moving forms, initiate a process of transformation. Such men constitute the creative elite of mankind; they are the seed-men, the great mutants of humanity.
The concept of the cycle which is at the root of our holistic world-outlook is a symbol, and so is the famous equation discovered by Einstein, e=mc², and his Theory of Relativity. If I consider this symbol, the cycle, as being eminently valid and indeed essential today, it is because I deeply feel that the idea of the cyclicity of existence and of time constitutes the basic answer to the philosophical, psychological, religious, ethical and social need of our times. This need has reached a point of great intensity because of the conditions in which our present-day humanity lives, and because of the conflicts which it inevitably faces in the process of assimilating, organizing and synthesizing a multitude of traditions within the structures of an all-encompassing global civilization.
Einstein's formula also answered a historical need, even though the use which modern nations are making of this great symbol of the fundamental relation between energy and mass may lead to catastrophe. But, who knows, a civilization may need to destroy itself so that a new quantum of potentiality of human existence may be released. Radioactivity could be tamed by a radically new society, and who can say that the emergence of a new type of human organism may not depend upon a much greater quantity of radioactive elements in the biosphere? Why do we always tend to expect our knowledge to be more or less final, our so-called laws to remain forever valid and our little truths to be absolutely true?
Truth, Value and Symbol
For most people living today, the formulas of modern physics and higher mathematics express structural relations that are unquestionably true and reliable representations of existential realities. Yet this truth is more apparent and temporary than absolute. Newton's formulas are also true, but we know now that they are true only up to a certain point and under certain conditions. We hardly know what gravitation or even electricity really is; our definitions of light are quite ambiguous. Even the most exact sciences imply postulates, of which one cannot say that they are absolutely true.
We can construct non-Euclidian geometries based on the postulate that two parallel lines meet. It is not necessary for us to say that a proposition and its opposite cannot both be true. There may be universes, or even long periods in our universe structured by laws of nature different from those we observe today. We claim that the speed of light is a universal constant, that the laws of thermo-dynamics and the principle of conservation of energy are true. Should we not rather consider them more fundamentally, as did Henri Poincarre, to be convenient? They fulfill a function which enables us to define our feeling and experience of existential order and periodicity, and allows us to act confidently, achieving relatively certain results in a relatively near future. These laws and principles of structural order have validity. We do not know whether they express Truth.
This word, truth, has a character of ambiguity to which we should not remain blind. According to its current everyday use, we may rightly say that it is true that the state of Ghana is in West Africa, that the sun, late in March, sets exactly in the West, and that the earth is a spheroid. These statements refer to facts which are part of our common human experience; they are facts simply because it is possible for any man who fulfills the required conditions of observation and possesses the necessary faculties of perception to experience their factual character. On the other hand, if we deal with our own feelings or inner experiences which other persons are not able to feel or experience — or at least not as directly and precisely as we experience them because an essential individual factor enters into such interior events — then the qualificative, true, can only have a relative significance. The same can be said of most metaphysical concepts and of the meaning a person attributes to such ambiguous terms as God, time, soul, mind, etc. — for these terms are loaded with emotional and personal overtones.
If I suddenly hear a voice, seemingly originating from a place at the end of my studio, yet I know for a certainty that no one and no instrument is there to produce the sound, and the voice gives me an important message, I cannot honestly say that this experience is true or real in the ordinary sense of the word; no one is there to share the experience, and perhaps no one would have been able to share it. Nevertheless it is my experience, and no one has any right to contest this fact. The experience may well have an immense value for me; it may answer to a deep need within my personality.
Yet if, having had this experience, I say to a friend that the message constitutes a "revealed truth," this would cause a semantic confusion in his mind. If he is not able to share my experience, at least theoretically, it is not true for him; yet it might be very valuable to him. It would be valuable as a symbol, that is, as an answer to a need which my friend and I have in common. We have the same need, but the event which contains an answer to this need is an experience only for me; it is a symbol for my friend. I cannot actually communicate the experience itself; as soon as I formulate or in any way exteriorize it for others, it either becomes merely an interesting event or a deeply moving symbol.
What Paul related as his experience on the road to Damascus cannot be said to be true as a fact; yet all men feeling psychologically and morally related to Paul and to his state of consciousness at the moment of his cathartic experience may rightly consider Paul's vision and its consequences a symbol deeply affecting their innermost being. The same could be said of Moses' experience on Mount Sinai, or of the Buddha's attainment of Nirvana under the bodhi tree, or of the revelation received by the great Persian prophet Baha'u'llah while chained to criminals at the bottom of a horrible airless cistern — the revelation of his mission as a "divine Manifestation." The radiance released by such transfiguring experiences has changed the lives and minds of millions of human beings; yet existentially speaking, one cannot assert that they were true.
Nevertheless, such types of experiences occurring at the beginning of important historical periods actually represent essential phases in the cyclic process of the evolution of human consciousness. From the point of view of the structure of this process, and when considered by a mind able to perceive this eonic process as a whole, the experiences of great historical personages have a profound meaning and value. They, and the modes of cognition they exemplify, have a structural value. They exist — which is the existential way of saying sub species eternitatis — as a function of the cyclic order of the evolution of Man's consciousness. These experiences represent successively actualized aspects of Man's original potential. To the individual person having these experiences they have an irrefutable existential character; but, I repeat, to the disciples and the millions of believers who follow after them, they are symbols. They have a deep, radical, structural and eonic value; but they are not true according to the existential meaning of the word, truth.
The importance of this distinction is fundamental. First of all when someone affirms that his experience is true, such an assertion, at least to the rationalistic and logical mentality of the West, inevitably evokes the opposite statement; it may be false. A basic dualism at once appears and we find ourselves on the plane of the moralist who establishes opposite categories of judgment — the good versus the evil. However, dualistic modes of consciousness and ethical judgments are basic factors in human evolution, for men are constantly confronted with the necessity of choosing between seemingly contradictory possibilities of action or of intellectual interpretation. Some persons or groups of persons follow a certain path, others take an opposite road. The usual result is that an acute conflict is unavoidable, whether it be a physical or an ideological conflict.
Conflict is inevitable the moment human beings who face opposite paths of action or belief give to their choice an absolute sense, if they affirm that what they see as the 'truth' or the 'right' is absolutely and forever true and right. No individual need take such an attitude, or at least men need not take it throughout the entire evolution of humanity. The dualistic attitude is necessary during long periods of evolution, but a time comes when it must be left behind if there is to be growth. The dualistic mode of consciousness can be overcome when one begins to introduce into true-or-false and good-or-bad judgments the factor of time; that is to say, when one takes into consideration the character of the phase of the cyclic process of evolution at which the judgment takes place. A certain phase of the evolution of consciousness emphasizes the need for a certain type of decision, a particular kind of desire and attraction, or for specific categories of intellectual concepts; another phase will present other needs which may well be opposed to the first. The solutions of these needs are each true in relation to the human beings experiencing the contrasting needs. The different solutions represent different human values.
The concept of a multi-level cyclic process of existence itself constitutes a fundamental value. Within this concept we can understand and appreciate all the solutions to the ever-changing needs of evolving man which successive and even simultaneous societies have sought to embody in collectively glorified ways of life and cultural institutes. We can recognize that all these values were adequate and legitimate at the time and at the place where they met the structural needs of human beings — individuals as well as groups — inasmuch as they were geared to particular phases of the cyclic process of human evolution.
Values must change the moment a new phase of evolutionwhether of mankind as a whole or of a single individual — begins. The forces which oppose the change — social groups and privileged classes in society, or habit-patterns, obsolete allegiances and complexes in the individual person — are obstacles to the process of growth; yet in some cases they may be useful as brakes to slow down a chaotic rush toward new but hazy and as yet dangerous goals. In any case (and there can be such a variety of circumstances!) we should not speak of an absolute opposition between truth and error, or good and evil, but only of a state of transition from one set of values to another. The new values are the answer to new human needs, and we always find these values condensed, exteriorized and formulated in terms of existential facts as new, or at least radically renovated and reactivated, symbols able to enkindle as well as focus the imagination of men.
The concept of the cycle is at least potentially the most inclusive of all symbols, because it constitutes a frame of reference for all symbols; it enables us to situate and to give a structural meaning to any and all symbols. It answers perhaps to the most profound need of the human mind, the need to harmonize, within an intelligible pattern of order and significance, ideas and beliefs, modes of feeling and behaving which though radically different must all be granted an objective and historical-geographical value.
This can be done convincingly only if each point of view or way of life is seen on the background of a whole cycle of existence, and each one is understood as a function of the particular phase of the cycle which it characterizes. As cycles with different starting points and of different lengths constantly interact and overlap, it follows that a great variety of values can be embodied and proclaimed incontrasting societies and cultures during the same period of time as is particularly the case today. The values differ simply because each of these societies is at a different phase of its evolutionary cycle, and therefore has different needs. Moreover, each society fulfills a different function within the whole of humanity. If we are able to understand what these different phases and functions are, we can accept the conflicting values as eminently worthwhile, at least for the people whose existence they guide or rule; and we can do this not merely in a spirit of perhaps hypocritical tolerance, but with deep and respectful understanding.
From such a spirit of understanding new techniques of inter-group and inter-cultural harmonization can emerge which would be more sound and stable than are our modern procedures of communication, discussion and conciliation, usually based merely on some half-hearted compromise. Humanity crucially needs such new techniques as it moves willingly or not, toward a state of highly complex planetary integration. All people need the capacity to structurally grasp the place of their own cultures and value-systems within the cyclic framework of the planet-wide process of evolution of the all encompassing mind of Man; and they can do so only if they cease thinking of symbols, born out of the particular needs of particular phase of the cycle, as absolute truths. I repeat, absolute truths inevitably imply absolute errors, and that belief in some timeless Absolute beyond existence tends to lead to a devastating form of escapism. If the factor of time is not integrated into any judgment of value, such a judgment will nearly always be based on a deviated sense of value. Problems then cannot be well formulated, neither can there be found valid solutions, and the inevitable result is either a state of deep confusion or constant warfare between irreconcilable values.
A banal example may show how, if one does not introduce the factor of time into the formulation of a problem, one can often not find an acceptable answer. A young student is given a written test phrased as follows: "The sun sets in the west. Answer: true or false." What should his answer be? Actually there is no possible yes-or-no solution to this problem, for the sun sets exactly in the west only at the time of the two equinoxes; at any other time the setting is more or less northwest or southwest. Therefore without bringing in the factor of time, and without referring actually or implicitly to the yearly process, the student cannot give the type of answer which has been asked.
A very similar kind of ambiguity is inherent in most of the metaphysical problems which have haunted Western thinkers. Consider for instance the famous problem of free will versus determinism. The question of whether a man is free or controlled by fundamentally preordained patterns, or by the power of God, makes no real sense if one does not introduce into it the queries: when, how and what for. The meaning of 'freedom' changes at every basic step in the evolution of human consciousness, be it the consciousness of the entire human race or of a person evolving from birth to death. Likewise the meaning of a term like 'God' is understood differently by a child during the first stages of his mental development and by a wise 60-year old philosopher.
One may retort that there is a Reality, God, to which different persons relate themselves in different ways; that while the approaches of the child and of the wise man differ, God is always what He really is. But from the point of view presented in this book, what is real is in every case the approach, that is, the existential need which in human beings apparently underlies their imagining and evoking the presence of something or someone called, in one language or another, God. It is an existential and therefore an always changing need; it changes according to the phase in the process of evolution of the consciousness of the race, the group, or the individual person.
Actually the term, God, represents a cyclic and structural relationship between one of the myriad of human existents appearing throughout the vast planetary cycle of mankind and the state of unity of the cycle-as-a-whole, the Eon. This relationship is a cyclic reality; and it is expressed by a multitude of symbols to which different meanings and values are given, all of them equally valid and indispensable at that particular moment of the cyclic process of the society and the culture which gave them form and power.
The Individual and the Collective
Today as we approach the birth of a planet-wide civilization, the imperious need has arisen within human consciousness to integrate the many symbols of the past. We are impelled, and indeed spiritually compelled, to discover where each of them belongs historically and intellectually and to attempt to give to the relationship, man-to-God, an all-inclusive cyclic meaning. Thus we will find ourselves obliged to use the basic symbol which expresses as broadly as possible this total relationship, because it includes and situates all other symbols, i.e., the symbol of the cycle.
We actually face the same situation when we consider the meaning of the relationship of the individual person to his community or to humanity as a whole. This inevitably leads to different conclusions according to the when and where of such a study. At an early stage of human evolution, when each man is an almost completely undifferentiated part of the tribal unit, the condition of self-sufficient and self-determined individual selfhood, is for some few tribesmen, a dream, an ideal perhaps. For the ordinary religious leaders and the myth-makers of that period, this ideal represents something evil, and they symbolize it in the figures of "rebel angels" or (in India) asuras (no-gods) against whom the gods wage a relentless "war in heaven."
The Prometheus myth in Greece has the same meaning but it already includes some new elements; Prometheus gives to as yet unindividualized, tribe-bound men the "fire" of individual selfhood which makes them self-conscious and potentially free individuals, and for this he incurs the hatred of the great god, Jupiter. Why does Prometheus steal the fire and give it to men? Out of compassion. This is the new element, compassion; and because of it Prometheus is in the end freed by a human hero who has become the symbol of the victorious and free individual. A new phase of human evolution has begun; it brings to the fore new symbols which glorify the new possibility — indeed the new need — of spiritual unfoldment for man.
The process of individualization very soon reveals itself fraught with great danger unless it is referred to a more encompassing reality. A solution must be found and at first it is sought at the psychological or psychic level. Man, the individual, oppressed by his loneliness and his struggle, in order to counteract an inevitable trend toward total isolation and a self-destructive glorification of the ego, images forth a personal God with Whom he can hold an intellect-transcending dialogue. This gives man the possibility of fully developing his potential of individual selfhood in relative psychological security. Everything that seems ideal then becomes oriented toward the attainment of pure individual selfhood, an attainment which is given a transcendental sanction by the "higher religions" and leads to the realization, by the single and essentially isolated individual person, of a mystical union with an absolute Reality beyond time and space.
At a more concrete and social level, the glorification of the individual person has its negative aspect in the "rugged individualism" of the American Frontiersmen, or of any frontier type of life. Its positive aspect is the ideal of the "free man" who, secure and strong in the realization of his individual self and his own truth-of-being, is fully able to cooperate with his companions in the building of the ideal democratic society of free men everywhere. Actually however the concept of the individual person as a 'citizen' endowed with ineradicable social rights represents a highly abstract ideal and evolutionary goal. What human consciousness faces and meets everywhere are collectively ordered factors, even though theoretically individualized persons are so often blind to this evident fact.
Individual differences between men are very small compared to all the life-factors these men have in common. Moreover most members of a particular society are ninety per cent controlled by collective cultural patterns of behavior and thinking; they speak the same language and use the same symbols in terms of basically the same needs. Even the feelings of culture-bound men and women very often coalesce into mass reactions. When slightly deeper differences arise — of color, of race and climatic environment, of culture and religion — they tend to take disproportionate and danger-provoking forms, and the supposedly individual person hastily withdraws into the safe enclosure of identification with his group, his people, his culture. The facts point to collective factors in human life; truly individual characteristics are magnified out of all proportion in most cases. Similarly, a creative artist tends to overstress his originality, his uniqueness, but to the art-critic of a couple of centuries later, his works and those of his colleagues, often regarded in his day as motivated by a sharp conflict of ideals, are seen as manifestations of the single collective style of the epoch.
The purely individual person, as well as the 'free and equal' citizen, are mostly 'myths;' they are symbols answering to the evolutionary need of this historical age. However these symbols inevitably call for another great symbol: a personal God with Whom an individual can hold an inner dialogue whenever he needs reassurance, guidance and a sense of total communion. When the belief in this God and in the possibility of dialogue with Him fades from man's mentality, then a psychological crisis — which can most easily develop into a social crisis — is inevitable. We are today in the midst of such a crisis. It compels "Godless" human beings to seek in some other way a real dialogue and total communion. For a great many restless modern individuals, sex seems to be the only other way; but except in rare cases, it leads to disappointment, perhaps to bitterness or perversion, and even to individual or collective crime.
Our society is today reeling under the pressure of these facts which point to the need for new symbols. We have just begun to understand, and what is more to experience, the necessity to refer the symbols of the individual person and of the free man in a democratic society to a larger process of human evolution. We dimly realize that of themselves alone these symbols have but a transitory and illusory meaning; they acquire a 'real' and a safe meaning only when they operate within a larger frame of reference and in terms of a new and all-inclusive symbol. The terms Man, Humanity, the Globe, the Planet-as-a-whole, constitute conceptual attempts at giving a definite form to the need for such a symbol. But the attempt must fail if it does not include the older symbol, God, and even that of a closer human community re-evoking, but with a new meaning the sense of belonging found in tribal units. We are reaching a state of evolutionary synthesis. Both the thesis and the antithesis have somehow to participate in that synthesis, even though it be in a transfigured sense.
The transfiguration of the tribe ideal has been demonstrated in Free Masonry — or at least in the original form of this movement some 250 years ago. The Masonic Lodge represents a new and modern version of the ancient concept of occult Brotherhood which is usually so little understood today. Its most significant corollary is an ordered process of transformation of the human person through a series of initiations which measure and identify his progressive steps toward the mastery of super-personal power and faculties. These are acquired when a man becomes an 'agent' for the over-all purpose of the "Great Architect of the Universe" — unless he came to follow the way of self-destruction and total isolation. This symbol of the G.A.O.T.U. is a repolarization of the personal God-image stressed in Near-Eastern religions. Whereas a personal God enters into a dialogue with individual persons (God and the individual constituting actually two aspects, infinite and finite, of the same concept) the Great Architect is seen rather as the creative Source of a vast universal process in which men who have reached the third degree of Mastery are able consciously to participate as His agents, as Builders of the Temple of Man.
This Great Architect of the Universe is the 'hidden Father' Who structured in Mind the process of evolution of the universe before it began to operate. For us men this process has concrete meaning basically in terms of our planet, Earth, seen as a vast field of interdependent activities operating at several levels. Indeed this planet is, for humanity as a whole, the Lodge. Within this one Field of activity all men are potentially co-builders of tomorrow. Out of the coordinated and companionate efforts of those individuals who have agreed to live in terms of a symbol — the Globe, the Lodge — that includes their inter-related basic selves and their differentiated and self-controlled capacities for the building work, the omega state of the planetary cycle will gradually take a concrete form.
In this symbolic image of a united mankind the principles of individual selfhood and personal freedom are certainly not absent; they are transfigured. They have to prove their validity by the only proof that matters — the proof of works. If a man claims to be an individual person he should prove it by demonstrating his freedom from the matricial power of family, culture and traditional beliefs. If he demands 'equality' he should be able to meet his equals at the level of their activity and their quality of response to life's challenges. Nothing should be assumed that cannot be shown to be real, here and now, either directly or through its immediate and actual consequences; and the ultimate proof is the one made tangible by a man's total consecration to whatever his participation in the process of human evolution demands. Everything else is a means to an end, including mystical experiences or mysterious revelations.
It is always essential for human beings to be able to answer the need confronting them. New symbols arise when new human needs call for them. We should recognize these needs objectively and dispassionately and seek to open our consciousness to those events or especially significant actions which seem to be pregnant with symbolic meaning. Some symbols may evidently have primarily a personal meaning, answering only a temporary need — a need conditioned by the tensions and conflicts which in most cases are inevitably associated with what I have called the ego-consciousness. Other symbols emerge out of collective situations and experiences which a vast number of people share for a relatively long period. Some symbols may be so fundamental that they no doubt have a sort of archetypal character inasmuch as they are integral parts of "man's common humanity" — which can be interpreted to mean the Image of Man within the creative Mind of God-ELOHIM; an Image which is but a theme susceptible of an almost infinite number of variations.
In any case however, the symbol has no real meaning unless it is deeply felt by a human person, unless it releases existential power— the power to transform some concrete and perceptible aspect of his existence. To legislate the character of symbols or to make dogmas out of their validity is essentially futile. The only proof of the validity of a symbol is the fact that it acts upon human beings — and it seems probable (though we certainly cannot be sure) that only human beings can be vitally affected by symbols. Animals respond to signs which lead them to expect certain actions or coveted gifts of food or delicacies. Human beings can be moved and transformed by symbols, for in these they find clues to the solution of basic problems which can only be solved when referred to a larger Whole in which men participate more or less consciously — and at the limit, to entire cycles of human evolution.
As Count Korzybski wrote in his early book The Manhood of Humanity, man has the "time-binding capacity." He can transfer the knowledge born of experience to future generations. This he does through the use of symbols. With his symbols he reaches beyond the end of his own personality cycle, his death, and immortalizes himself as a contributor to the One Mind of humanity. Throughout his life-span a man shares in the treasures of the human past and, if he is at all creative, adds to these treasures the symbols — words, recorded or remembered deeds, works of art, images and now photographs — which together constitute not only the imprint but also the "seed" of his personality.
A culture, seen from the perspective of several centuries or millennia after its gradual disintegration, is perhaps best understood through the complex groups of symbols embodied in its literature and its art. Art, in the most general sense of the word, includes music, literature, dance, as well as the visual arts, painting and sculpture, — and constitutes the most vivid and meaningful 'seed manifestation' of an ancient culture, or even of one particular century-long phase in the development of a culture which may still be in the process of completing its cycle of creative existence.
Because of this it is necessary to conclude this chapter on symbols with a brief discussion of what Art is capable of conveying to present-day humanity at a time when for the first time in history, men of all cultures around the globe can communicate through the experience of Art, not only with all the creative manifestations of living artists everywhere, but even more significantly with the seed-products of all past cultures which have left Art-symbols as witnesses to their innermost concern with the great problem of existence, and as collective answers to the human need of their time.
The Planetary Approach to Art
A symbol without an existential function — a symbol which does not answer to a need characteristic of a particular phase of the evolution of the consciousness of a person or a community — is not really a symbol. In this sense we may say that a symbol is essentially useful inasmuch as it serves a vital purpose in man's evolution; and the same applies to Art in general. Yet it would probably confuse people if one were to state that Art has a function of utility, for the word, utility, usually refers only to physical everyday needs. Art serves a purpose, but this purpose takes on very different aspects according to whether it operates at one or another of the several levels of human existence. Man has essentially a need for a deep-seated experience of order and structure. He wants to be reassured in every conceivable way that ours is a universe of order in which certain vitally important events — like the sunrise, the coming of spring, or the inundations of the Nile — occur periodically. He expects the recurring of such events just as he expects the recurrence of a theme in a musical fugue or symphony, or a geometrical motif in architecture, and when his expectation is justified he feels more at peace with himself and the universe.
Art fills this human need for an ever more subtle experience of structural order. If a work of Art presents a person with a kind of repetitive order or structural development which disappoints his normal anticipation, he experiences a sense of frustration or even resentment and indignation. For this reason, an Art-work is expected to have form which, however, actually means the particular type of structural order which previous Art-works in this particular culture have displayed. The innovator in Art is always accused by critics, who take it upon their stooped shoulders to be the guardians of the tradition, of producing Art-works "without form." The first music in the Debussy period, which failed to end without a definite stressing of the tonality of the piece gave most hearers a frustrating sense of incompleteness; it left them "hanging up in the air," they said. Their expectation of a satisfying ending was disappointed, and this fact reveals the deep rootedness of the instinctive awareness that life is cyclic and that every great cycle normally ends with a statement of perfect fulfillment in consonance — thus in some kind of presentiment of the omega state, or seed-state.
It does not make much sense however, to expect that every work of Art should at all times present a picture of cyclic fulfillment or formal equilibrium. Although man needs to feel order and structure around him, he has also a basic and essential need for dynamic transformation. In so-called classical eras, the sense of structural order normally prevails, and such eras usually follow periods highly disturbed at the political-social or spiritual level. But there are times when change becomes imperative, when ego-structures and traditional moulds have become prisons for the free creative spirit and must be shattered; there are times when a narrow cultural provincialism has to be expanded or dissolved in order to allow experiences of wider horizons to occur. Then the exclusivism of a classical era must give way to the inclusiveness of a romantic and post-romanticperiod, and the demand for an ever greater inclusion of values which at first appear alien to the spirit of that culture — is not only justified, aesthetically as well as ethically or intellectually and scientifically, it is necessary and inevitable.
Since we have now reached a period of constant contact with what are to us alien cultures that have developed on all continents, itis necessary and inevitable that we include in our Art, symbols and types of structures which at first disturb our sense of order and our expectations. As most people at first resent being disturbed, and cultural institutions fight overtly or insidiously against innovations and the inclusion of the products of alien cultures, it becomes necessary for iconoclasts to deliberately aim at shocking the public into a realization that the old traditional patterns are obsolete and empty of really creative meaning. Yet these old patterns may still be valid answers to the needs of large sections of the masses which lag behind the creative elite; and the reactions of these masses may also be valid counter-weights to balance the too-centrifugal tendencies of artists, musicians, writers, theatrical producers, etc. who may be avid for novelty at any cost.
The craving for originality, exacerbated today by commercial interests profiting from swift changes of fashions in the Art world, belongs to the realm of the ego. It is the realm where the fleeting superficialities of existence give rise to equally superficial symbols. Changes in fashion — in Art as well as in clothing, commercial designs and external group behavior — reflect the surface agitation of egos moved by the winds of everyday occurrences and temporary social readjustments. But underneath the excitement of these small waves of change bringing to the status of fleeting symbols movie stars or new "schools" of Art, fancy automobiles or highly publicized slogans, one can feel the deep currents of human evolution introducing sometimes slow, but now very rapid changes in man's basic sense of values. The emergence of lasting and humanly significant symbols correlates with such deep changes.
A new evolutionary tide is compelling every awake and responsive human being to become aware of the existence of many past and present human societies, their basic culture and symbols and the everyday mode of behavior of their members. A global culture is almost inevitably arising with the spread of radio and television, and the translation of ancient and modern books into all languages. For the first time Art can be seen from an all-human point of view. It can be related not merely to a particular type of men living in a particular geographical environment, but to the evolution of Man — to the slow development of the mind of Humanity-as-a-whole. A totally new perspective is possible; a new all-human meaning can be given to Art. Art can be watched from a panoramic point of view, simultaneously encompassing the cultural products of men on all continents in space, and relating in time the cultural seed-harvests of all types of societies which have left any records, from the time when men drew amazingly beautiful pictures in the caves of Central France and Spain some 25,000 years ago to this present twentieth century.
For the first time in human history these ancient records of prehistoric man — the statues of ancient Egypt and China, the Mayan and Hindu temples, the Gothic cathedrals and Arabic mosques, the Ajanta frescoes and Cezanne's paintings, the music heard on all continents and many other expressions of Art — can be seen to constitute in their togetherness the multifarious manifestations of one immense effort in which men always and everywhere participate. Human beings of all races and cultures should feel themselves united and victorious in such a participation, in spite of the existential peculiarities of exclusivistic doctrines and regardless of ever-repeated social-political tragedies. Victorious not only over such tragedies, but even over the sense of futility or absurdity which at times seizes groups of over-sensitive or morally weak men, particularly today among our confused intellectual classes.
From this global and perennial point of view, we can now see in Art the tireless and forever creative mind of Man at work in Art. We can witness in the great museums of our day and in the collections of music records registered in all countries of the globe what are no longer merely the many answers which this or that culture has given to its basic psycho-social needs, but even more, we can witness proof of the continuity and indomitable strength of the human spirit operating under all conceivable existential conditions. We can rise above all the particular collective situations, the differentiated answers concretized into great Art-symbols. We can see through the diversity of specific answers and find underlying them the one all encompassing answer of Man to existence on this planet. Thus we may become attuned to the one multifarious passion for expression of human multitudes spurred on by the vision of creative minds that become the 'seed-men' of their epochs.
It is important for us to realize that the statues, hieroglyphs and mythical figures, often half-animal, half-divine, of ancient Egypt or India which answered to the psychological, social and religious needs of the people of those cultures can no longer have for us moderns the existential meaning they had then. We today cannot experience the actual feelings of the men of ancient Egypt when they prepared for initiation into the mysteries and moved through the corridors of their temples amidst the figures of their gods. If we tried to retrace their steps today, our own feelings would lack existential authenticity because our contemporary needs require new values and new symbols. While the direct and immediate feeling-responses which the figures of the gods elicited from the men of that time are no longer possible for us, we can however, give to these ancient records of Art, as well as to the present-day ritual sculptures from Central Africa, another meaning which reaches beyond the original strictly cultural and religious meaning and purpose of these Art-forms. We can vividly experience the indefatigable pulsing of the creative spirit in Humanity-as-a-whole in and through all of these forms; through them we can experience Man at work and become aware of the essential unity of the mind of Man.
Art, seen in its all-human and planetary reality, thus answers a deep and new need of our time. It becomes a potent and vivid symbol of what modern man should value most in this period of history. Indeed this view of Art can perhaps be man's most authentic existential response to the challenge of preparing for a coming 'New Age.' Such a response negates the old concept of "Art for Art's sake," it gives a new dimension to Art reaching far beyond mere formalism and technical skill. It speaks of Art for Man's sake. The individual paticipating in this most basic of Art-experiences should realize and become conscious of the immense efforts of human collectivities everywhere, and at all times — their contribution of the harvest of symbols of their particular cultures to the one mind of Humanity.
Mankind has reached an evolutionary level in which it should be increasingly clear that Man's essential function on this planet, Earth, is to extract consciousness from an immense variety of existential situations and personal and collective activities. However, the consciousness human societies have extracted from their basic experiences has until now been conditioned by local factors and limited geographical environments. This stage can and should be transcended now. Its particularism and exclusivism should be absorbed in and transfigured by the unifying experience of Man at work everywhere and throughout all ages — Man, the consciousness of the Earth, forever creating symbols to focus and dynamize the many values which, phase after phase of human evolution, contribute answers to the needs of the times.
The lesser is always more or less an obstacle to the realization of the greater. In this sense, we are inevitably witnessing a process of de-culturalization of Art and of all modes of human activity today. Global consciousness, in seeking to assert itself, necessarily tends to disintegrate and destroy the consciousness and dependence of men upon local culture and religious forms, however broad the latter may seem. The new values emerging from this century are expressions of the planetarization of human consciousness; and Art, when understood and experienced beyond its strictly cultural meaning and importance, when it reaches beyond the mere recording of the superficialities of the contemporary scene, can and should become a potent influence in the stimulation of this process of planetarization.
Not only Art must be re-evaluated, however. All symbols require a fundamental reappraisal of their value as functions of the newly emerging planetary consciousness of humanity. The traditional meaning of the famous trinity, the Good, the True and the Beautiful, is at stake; for these criteria of validity must also be transfigured by the birth of a world-viewpoint transcending the exclusivism and separativeness of societies and cultures always at war with the foreign and the alien, always haunted by a yearning for absolutes and clinging fanatically to their own revelations as supreme and changeless.
Such a transfiguration of values can hardly assume an existential and totally convincing character unless the potent symbol of the cycle is wholeheartedly accepted as the measure of all things. Only the concept of cyclic process enables us to situate every truth, every moral code, every theological dogma, every aesthetical mode of expression, every social form of behavior, and every institution, enabling us to accept them all as relatively valid — valid, that is, in relation to the type of collectivities which believed (or now believes) in their value and to the historical time and geographical environment which witnessed and (or is still witnessing) their development.
Since the Industrial Revolution and above all since the discovery of nuclear power, the concept of a tribal or nationalistic and geographically defined culture can no longer have the same kind of exclusivistic meaning. This does not necessarily mean that local cultures and ethnical values have become entirely obsolete. It means, however, that they should now be seen as evolving, specialized expressions of humanity-as-a-whole. It means particularly that the values and symbols which are directly founded upon man's common humanity should be emphasized, rather than those which tend to divide groups and races. There are symbols and values which are essentially related to the very structure of Man in this planetary cycle of existence; but even these should be freed from limiting traditional and racial biases. They should be thoroughly re-assessed, reformulated and revaluated, so that they can once more vibrate creatively with an intense and consciously all-human meaning.
Such a process of rejuvenating symbols demands of us all that we summon from within us the courage to meet, with open eyes and minds free of archaic allegiances, the present-day release of unparalleled and utterly transforming potentialities for planet-wide rebirth out of the nightmare of centuries of exclusivism, fanaticism, cruelty and wars. We are challenged to honestly face, with emotional detachment and intellectual lucidity, all that has bound us to past cultural traditions and the habits and fears of our ego-consciousness. We are challenged to rethink all values and all symbols, to take nothing for granted; for whatever we take for granted is, from this very fact, for us spiritually dead.
Humanity is today actually facing a war of symbols, and every man is its battlefield. Under the pressures of catastrophies and wars, and even more perhaps of economic conditions and compulsory readjustments of human relationships at home and at work, many human beings, feeling their everyday lives empty of meaning, happiness and inspiration, tend to find solace, support and security in the old symbols of the social, religious and cultural past of their society, or of other seemingly more attractive cultures. At the same time, the extraordinary strides of our modern technology has aroused in us all new material needs and desires for comfort; and this arousal is methodically intensified by industry and science which always need greater expansion and new horizons to conquer, unable as they are to stop their ever-accelerating momentum.
Materialistic or even artificial as these new human needs may appear, they nevertheless inevitably operate in the direction of the planetarization of human existence inasmuch as they serve the process of deculturalization. It may seem unfortunate that they most often destroy or subtly disintegrate man's allegiance to the old concepts of the Good, the True and the Beautiful, but out of the chaos and spiritual emptiness of the greater part of modern living, new values and more inclusive, less provincialistic forms of interpersonal relationships are gradually taking shape. These values and new modes of relationship must become focalized, vivified, dramatized by new symbols if they are to have the power to move the minds and stir the emotions of leaders as well as human masses everywhere.
Such symbols take form in the minds of individuals who are open to the surge of potentialities which is now making inevitable the planetarization of humanity — individuals whose personal experiences have produced in them the tensions necessary to such a process of spiritual pregnancy, the enthusiasm, the fervor, and as well the inescapable and perhaps torturing feeling that the traditional symbols of the past can no longer provide them with the psychic, emotional and intellectual sustenance they need to lead a totally acceptable and meaningful life. These individuals, men and women, boys and girls, seek passionately, and often feverishly and most awkwardly, to reach a new state of human existence, a state which, many years ago, I symbolized by the term "the man of plenitude."
The new values to which a state of individual as well as all-human plenitude refers have doubtlessly not yet found their most characteristic and stimulating symbols, yet some basic ones have appeared, as we shall presently see. Whatever these may be and however fecundant their meaning, the field of the new mentality is wide open — a virgin field for 'seedmen' who have the courage and the creative imagination fully to envision what is even now beginning to emerge out of the womb of the potential inherent in Man.
Whether on this Earth or on other planets, 'Man' is the form of existence in which the creative potential of evolution is essentially uncommitted to any limiting and restricted mode of response to the infinitely varied challenges of environment. Man is the conscious agent through whom the creative and forever transforming power undertoning the process of existence can become focused and released and, as it is released, acquire the character of consciousness. Conscious Man is the creator of values; and values in order to become effectual and stirring must become concretized and dramatized as symbols through the power of man's imagination.
We do indeed live in a world of symbols; and as human existence changes, at each new phase of the process of evolution of the biosphere in which human beings live, move and have their being, the need for new symbols ineluctably arises. These symbols, emerging from experiences in the depths of "seedmen," become the foundations upon which new societies are built. Today we are witnessing the painful birth process of a global society.
The Planetarization of Consciousness