Many mystical paths in the world’s spiritual traditions claim to lead one to a conscious merging, union, and a direct identification with Deity, the Sacred, Reality, the Universe, the Transcendent, with a first-hand experience of being God.
In Christianity this has been called many different things through history, including theosis, divinization, deification, theoria (contemplation), and the Beatific Vision. In many cases, particularly in the West, there is a sense in religion of striving towards this ultimate end, this final vision, in becoming ever more pure until one becomes the Divine. But I think this may be not quite right. It’s not that we are heading towards becoming like God, or even becoming God, but rather we are coming to realize that which we already are, recognizing the Divinity which already exists within us, which is our true Nature, which we have forgotten.
“How could that be,” you might say. “How could I already be God? I certainly don’t feel like God. I’m not all-knowing, all-present, or all-powerful. I can’t move mountains or walk on water. I don’t have x-ray vision. I can’t fly. I can’t read minds.” But perhaps these “God-like” qualities are not really God, and perhaps they have little to do with what God actually is, at least in the way we usually think. Maybe our egos have redefined our understanding of God to be something like an all-powerful dictator, sorcerer, one who can do whatever one likes at any time, one who doesn’t have to follow any rules, or who makes the rules, who transcends all limitations, boundaries, laws, etc. Maybe our ego has imagined a God that is like an all-powerful and unlimited Ego, the ultimate dream of an ego. But is that really what God is? Is God absolutely limitless? I’ve written some on this before.
To me, God is not an all-powerful dictator. God is not someone who breaks all the rules and does whatever they like. In fact, God is not a “someone” at all. I perceive that God is all someones, all of Life, even all of the Cosmos and Nature, who is immanently present within all of Creation while at the same time transcends that Nature. God is the whole of Reality as it really is, but not as we think it is. And if that is true, then God is also in us, and is our fundamental and most basic essential nature. It is what is true of us before any other truth. We are Divine. We come from the Divine, and continue to exist in the Divine, as the Divine. We just don’t know this. We’ve forgotten it.
I’ve explored in previous posts the nature of human consciousness and the development of our ego in our childhood. I think it is the development of this ego, this psychological “self,” which is synonymous with the traditional “Fall” mythology of humanity. We come into this world without any such sense of an ego, free of any sense of a separate independent “self.” Cognitive psychologists have shown that as newborn infants we have a sense of absolute oneness with our mothers, the world, and reality. Nothing is separate, distinct, discrete, but is all one thing, one being, and we are one with it all. It is all us. As we continue to experience the world and our cognitive development progresses, we gradually “fall” out of this oneness with reality, begin to become self-aware, and we begin to identify our body and mind as a separate independent individual “self.” Dualities emerge in our consciousness. We begin to gain human knowledge of things. This is the beginning of our ego, and it is the development of this separate divided ego in our minds that I think eventually ends up blinding us to the wholeness, oneness, infinitely interconnected nondual nature of reality that we once knew in our infancy and childhood.
This is perhaps what the poet-mystic William Wordsworth had in mind when he penned these famous lines in his Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood:
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting; The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star, Hath had elsewhere its setting And cometh from afar; Not in entire forgetfulness, And not in utter nakedness, But trailing clouds of glory do we come From God, who is our home: Heaven lies about us in our infancy! Shades of the prison-house begin to close Upon the growing Boy, But he beholds the light, and whence it flows, He sees it in his joy; The Youth, who daily farther from the east Must travel, still is Nature’s priest, And by the vision splendid Is on his way attended; At length the Man perceives it die away, And fade into the light of common day.
If we are God, and have just forgotten it, is our ego an illusion then? Eastern traditions sometimes say that our “self” is an illusion, that it is not real, and that by realizing this we become liberated from the “self” and return to oneness with Reality/God. I think that’s mostly true, but the ego is not like a mirage, an illusion which simply tricks our eyes. The individual ego-self is a real phenomenon that emerges within each human being (particularly in humans) and human consciousness during our lifetime. But it is not our most real self, our most real enduring essence. It is necessarily a story, a narrative, a constructed self, a symbolic tale of what we think that we are. It is primarily made up of thoughts. It is a created identity that sits on top of and often obscures our true and eternal identity as one with the whole of Reality. How could we essentially be this ego identity if it did not exist at our birth? We’re not, but rather we are an integral part of the Whole.
The complexity and creativity of our human consciousness which allows us to build skyscrapers also means that we also have a complex view of our “self,” of this particular body, hands, feet, head, hair, and mind, of our story, of our life, of our abilities, relationships, experiences, past, future, and a million other things. Unfortunately this egoic perspective often runs out of control, and becomes overbearing, domineering, and tyrannical, destroying all sense of connection with others and the outside world. Our “self” sets up shop within our minds as the most important thing that exists, and its thoughts are the “most correct” or “true,” and all existence begins to revolve around the center of this “self” (see 2 Thess. 2). The ego-self makes us believe that we are it, that it is it, and little else matters. And this can go two ways, both “positively” inflated in pride and self-aggrandizement, or negatively in self-doubt and self-hatred. We think that our identity, our substance, our spirit extends to the boundary of our bodily skin and no further, our ego informs us. It tells us we are only that which we see in the mirror, and the thoughts which saturate our minds. But this is not accurate.
It is relatively correct that there is a person that occupies the space of our body, and that this human body is a different body than other bodies, but this doesn’t mean that it is wholly disconnected, detached, independent, and separate from all other bodies and the rest of the world, Nature, and Reality. We know this on a scientific level. Our bodies are continually recycling elements from the environment, into the body through air, water, and food, and out of the body through excretion and shedding skin and hair and nails. This happens all day long every day. There is no such thing as one continuous permanent body ever present, but rather it is a dynamic living flowing process that is continually exchanging chemical elements, molecules, and atoms with the environment, and deriving energy from these elements. That is what makes us alive! That we feel we are a permanent body is one of the many illusions or errors of the ego. We are as interconnected to our environment, the world, nature, and the cosmos, as anything can possibly be. For example, the iron in the hemoglobin of the body’s blood which shuttles oxygen around the body was originally produced in the core of a star that went supernova billions of years ago. And that iron may have existed in spinach just before we ate it. We are that!
On a mind level we develop all kinds of narratives that we tell ourselves, narratives of who we think we are, narratives that the ego tells itself, of what it is and what it is not. But these should be recognized as narratives. And narratives, as helpful as they may be in navigating our lives, are not fundamental, essential, enduring, permanent structures of our being. Our being comes before any of these narratives, these thoughts, these ideas, these perceptions, these constructions of the human mind. Our being comes before them all. As one very wise man once said, “Before Abraham was, I Am!” (John 8:58). And so are we! Jesus was trying to communicate what we all are, that we are all Divine, that we are all this Being that is eternally existent in the Cosmos, and that is the Cosmos and Reality itself. Moses realized it too when he found God who could only identify itself as “I Am.” It was the “I Am” within Moses, not the ego of Moses, but rather his most basic essential nature that was “I Am.” Every mystic, sage, prophet, guru, saint, or other spiritual person who was realized, awakened, or enlightened, has directly come to know the same, and taught about it in many different ways, and how others could directly come to know it for themselves.
It is not our ego that is God. That ego-self has never been God, and will never be God, although it wants to be, desperately. It wants to be that “dictator” God I noted at the start that we think is all-powerful, and has absolute total control, and doesn’t have to follow any rules or laws. And the ego will go to any and all lengths and means to convince us that it is this God (see 2 Thess. 2), or can become this God. The ego often corrupts religion itself to make it seem that religion’s goals are the exaltation of this ego, of itself, and this happens in Christianity too. It is thought that theosis or deification is the turning of the ego-self into God, the transformation of the ego-self into Deity. This is an unfortunate corruption of the original mystical revelation, because it makes it seem that the ego must become something infinitely great that it is not already, and so it begins a long and arduous journey to become something infinite, which of course it never can achieve. Something finite, like the ego, cannot ever become something infinite, like God. It can never happen in all eternity. The math doesn’t work. And so the ego often becomes discouraged along the way, searching, seeking, looking for where God is, and how it can become more like God. It doesn’t realize that the being in which it arises is already God, and has always been God, and always will be God. In fact, the ego’s very presence alone in consciousness blinds consciousness from knowing this truth about its being. It is through the losing of the ego, when the ego becomes very quiet, and silent, that the true nature of our being can shine like a bright Light through it, the ego becomes transparent to consciousness, is removed entirely from consciousness, and consciousness can become aware of its true nature. “Be still [ego], and know that ‘I Am’ God” (Psalm 46:10).
Yes. We are already God. But not our ego-self, but our deeper, truer, substantial, enduring being. That being is God, is Nature, is Energy, is Light, is the Cosmos, is Love, is Truth, is Divinity, is Reality. (Scientific minds might notice the resemblance here to the law of conservation of energy, or the law that the total energy of a system, such as the universe, is a constant, eternally existent, and can neither be created nor destroyed, but only transformed from one form into another.) Through the arising and development of this separate ego-self in our human consciousness we have forgotten this Divine Truth, and are blind to it. Another way to say it is that God has forgotten what God is in us through our becoming a human ego-mind.
My Mormon friends might notice here a connection to their tradition that Michael the archangel, who was among the “Gods” who created the Earth, came to Earth and became Adam, or humanity, and forgot all in that process. We are that! We are that God that became Adam, we emerged as a human ego, and forgot what we were and are in that Fall from oneness/nonduality in our infancy to the “lone and dreary” world of duality and multiplicity in our youth and adulthood. There is also a connection here to the Adam-God theory, the belief that Adam was and is God. Brigham Young claimed that Joseph taught that “Adam was God,” or that Adam is “our Father and our God, and the only God with whom we have to do.” I believe there is truth in this, but it has again been forgotten, even in Mormonism. We are “Adam & Eve,” or humanity, human life, and “Adam and Eve” are God.
Our human ego sees as though through a glass darkly. It seeks, it looks, it searches, it learns, it gains knowledge, it makes mistakes, commits errors and causes harm (“sins”), believes in delusions, corrects its understanding, grows, falls, and does all manner of things looking for what is True, Real, Eternal, Good, Beautiful, and God. It doesn’t know that our most basic nature is already Divine, Perfect, Whole, Complete, full of Love, Truth, and Beauty, underneath this ego that we think we are. And the only way for us to know our true nature, for God to again know God, or for God to remember who God is in us, is for the ego to step out of the way, for this sense of a separate “self” to subside from our consciousness. And this is why I believe ego sacrifice, ego death, ego dissolution, ego transcendence, etc., is found in all the world’s religions and spiritual traditions, and in secular science, and is often accomplished through many forms of contemplative or meditative practices, or other means of changing consciousness (and there are many). It is a sometimes cited as a return to a childlike state of consciousness, which makes sense since in our infancy or childhood we live prior to the development of an ego. This is perhaps why Jesus said that of such “is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 19:14). This thought also appears in Mormonism, that humans are “innocent in the beginning” and that when redeemed from the Fall we become “again, in their infant state, innocent before God” (D&C 93:38).
I think it is also why science is beginning to recognize the limits of the ego self and mind, and that the ego center of the brain must occasionally go offline in order for us to directly realize truth, goodness, and beauty in our lives. It can even be described as as a forgetting of what we think we know, the ego forgetting its “knowledge,” a letting go of all the thoughts/ideas/concepts/beliefs/constructions that constantly fill our minds, so our being can remember itself. The ego can become so tarnished, so full of gunk, so opaque, so full of errors and delusions, thinking it “knows,” that it is impenetrable and spiritually “dead” to wonder, to awe, to mystery, to the infinite, to eternity, to truth, to beauty, to love, to our own deepest being that is forever at-one with the Cosmos itself. Jesus said, “Ye are the Light of the world (Greek: kosmos)” (Matthew 5:14), and prayed that we would realize our oneness with this Cosmos, this Universe, this Reality, this “Father” or Source that has created/manifested us, and continues to be us, even precisely the same as he had realized (John 17). It is not our ego that is one with it, or that could ever become it, but our deeper Divine Being, which is God. God in us is at-one with God, and forever will be at-one in God. God will always be God. We are that!
We are already God, we have just forgotten. This is the “good news”! What we need to do is remember who and what we really are, recognize it, realize it, awaken to it, be reborn, into our true original nature as One with this Reality in which we reside, and of which we are. This takes a change of mind, of consciousness.