Metaphysics is one of those words that seem to have a different meaning to everyone who uses it. Webster tells us that metaphysics is a mind science dealing with "the nature and the cause of knowing and being." The word originates with students of Aristotle who, when organizing his works placed the papers on his understanding and theories of the underlying causes in the universe after his papers on matter or physical science. They were called “Meta Physika” or “After Physics”. Not very romantic but there it is. The meaning evolved to beyond or transcending physics, but it would be more accurate to say beneath or sub-standing because it is the study of what underlies form or matter. It has grown out of its philosophical origins to include esoteric studies and spirituality that the philosopher would not include.
In this section of the site we will try to make sense of the various forms this study takes.
The Woods are lovely dark and deep,
but I have promises to keep,
and miles to go before I sleep,
miles to go before I sleep.
~ Robert Frost
Anthony J. Fisichella
To most, metaphysics is defined as a condition transcendental in nature; above and beyond the physical. This is the common usage of the term and one that could suffice, for the most part. However, a more inclusive and broader meaning would serve far better in boxing the complete range of the metaphysical compass, and must therefore be kept in mind.
Webster tells us that metaphysics is a mind science dealing with "the nature and the cause of knowing and being." Metaphysics, therefore, in the truest sense of the word, is an epistemological ("the study or a theory of the nature and grounds of knowledge with reference to its limits and validity") and an ontological ("the nature and the relations of being") pursuit. It concerns itself with an exploration of the characteristics of knowledge, the attributes of knowing and the nature and constitution of those beings that professes to know - man and ???
Moreover, there is an esoteric and mystical, as well as exoteric and empirical, side to all metaphysical pursuits. Though metaphysics has many facets that transcend the empirical aspects of such sciences as physics, it also must be recognized that it incorporates this and other empirical sciences as well. In a very real sense, all empirical science begins as an attempt to uncover and expose the hidden, esoteric aspects of life. Of late I hear many individuals exclaiming, "so many people are into metaphysics now-a-days." They are referring, of course, to the exotic, transcendental or paranormal aspects of metaphysical pursuit. The pursuit of knowledge about the "self" or any aspect of the nature of knowing and being has been a preoccupation of mankind's thinking since the dawn of history.
The term "esoteric" originates in the Greek esoterikos stemming from the root eso, "within"; as in the biblical pronouncement, "the kingdom is within." It implies an understanding of or relating to a body of secret knowledge, and a state of being that is hidden and veiled and known to very few, that which lies concealed "within" the depths of nature. And correspondingly, within the depths of man. "Occult" bears a similar definition - hidden or concealed. A definition I encountered in a dictionary that is particularly revealing is, "existing but not immediately perceptible." Thus, to think of the occult as nonexistent and hallucinatory would be contrary to the definition.
The esoteric side of metaphysics, especially as it relates to religious tenets, is termed mysticism. Evelyn Underhill, one of the most respected and knowledgeable experts in the field, defines Mysticism as follows; "Mysticism is the art of union with reality." She continues, "The mystic is a person who has attained that union in greater or lesser degree; or who aims at and believes in such attainment." Let's see if we can be even more definitive.
The mystical experience occurs when reality is apprehended directly, i.e. without benefit of mediation. That means without even the mediation of one's five senses and their perceptive powers. And, hard as it is to believe, without the mediation and distortion of the mind with its insistence upon analysis, comparison, acceptance or rejection of the perceived reality. Knowledge gained through the mystical experience, therefore, is not part of a rational, intellectual process. It occurs when subject and object become one - outside of the constraints of time and space and beyond the parameters of words, symbols, names and conceptualization. It is the direct experience of the universe, and the persons, places, objects and events contained therein in their true nature.
The key to understanding this experience is the statement "the art of union." We know a thing or condition only and truly by uniting with it, assimilating it, by an inter-penetration of not our forms but of pure essence with essence. Thus do the energies of lovers merge into oneness and the saint achieves and experiences a true "passionate communion" with God. This transcends the superficial perceptions of life to which we give so much credence. But such experiences are initially fleeting.
The experience of the mystical may occur rarely and randomly within the life of an individual. But it is this "taste of the Brahmic splendor," as it is described in the Hindu tradition, that hints of the glory that is to come. I suspect this is the permanent state of the saint or guru, as it will be for all of humanity in the future.
It is the goal of all those who tread the esoteric path of spiritual development.
Ms. Underhill goes on to tell us, "The visionary is a mystic when his vision mediates to him an actuality beyond the senses. The philosopher is a mystic when he passes beyond thought to the pure apprehension of truth. The active man is a mystic when he knows his action to be a part of a greater activity." And that greater activity is not to be defined within the context of the values assigned by the average individual not in possession of the mystical eye. It is unfortunate that we have in our preoccupation with our mundane affairs, lost sight of the mystical and transcendental. As the poet David Gascoyne suggested, we are left with the "intolerable character of human existence if it is bereft of the sense of the transcendental."
To define man's nature through the half-sight of any or all of those disciplines that constitute the empirical sciences of biology, anthropology, psychology and the like, is to omit man's spiritual pedigree and is decidedly one dimensional and incomplete, though these investigations certainly have their place. Science is radically limited in its pursuit of truth, though many scientists will argue with this statement. But most scientists, like most people, are not free from bias and are therefore not always objective. Scientists are human and are thus subject to the same religious, philosophic and cultural prejudices. Looking for reality through just the single lens of science can be likened to the old anecdotal witticism of searching for a lost object only where there is light. After all, it's easier to see.
Though the scientific method has served us well and has broadened our view of man and the universe, it has likewise limited our perspective by omitting the transcendental, though I must admit this is not true of those engaged in the esoteric aspects of quantum physics. A strictly theological approach is likewise ineffective as it omits the elements of man's physical nature and lineage.
There are avenues of knowledge and awareness that we are all accustomed to, that we take for granted, and thus never speak of in metaphysical terms, leaving the metaphysical to the realm of the exotic. Therein lies the misleading aspect of a superficial definition. Understanding the complex nature of being, the ever growing body of human knowledge and the relative states of knowing, and the source of it all, requires that we embrace the full spectrum; the empirical and that which is eventually to become so. Our pursuit runs headlong into a proverbial brick wall when we attempt, either empirically or even esoterically, to fully define the nature of man, God and the universe. We encounter "missing links".
To be faithful to Webster's definition of metaphysics, an all inclusive and eclectic approach would appear to be in order in the search for truth in as much as, "the nature and the cause of knowing and being" cannot be defined within the limited context of any single discipline. To thoroughly comprehend the underlying principles of the universal cosmology necessitates a comparative analysis of all the great religions, the philosophies of antiquity, especially the esoteric classics, as well as an in-depth understanding of the growing body of scientific knowledge regarding the nature of existence. What seems required is a marriage of ancient, philosophic and religious tradition, with modern science, especially quantum physics.
For hundreds of years these two most powerful of forces in human endeavor, religion and science, have been at odds with each other, and with differing aspects of themselves, leaving most of us so much the worse for the fallout. "Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind." (Einstein)
A shift in perspective would seem to be in order. An attempt is needed to weave a tapestry of science, religion and philosophy, drawing upon a varied spectrum of sources. Philosophy, the pursuit of wisdom, provides us with a superstructure - religion, true religion, religare, to re-link, will furnish the beams and rafters - science, can be used as symbol and illustration as it catalogues nature's continuous efforts to express the Eternal Verities, through form - heaven and earth frame the backdrop.
Ponder this until we meet again.
In Light , Love and Power,