LONDON, May 29, 2012 − On more than one occasion this column provided a platform for spirited debate between the two sides of the spiritual divide. But regardless of the argument at hand, there has been a strong tendency on the part of some to summarily reject any suggestion that there may exist a reality beyond the observable world.
This position is generally referred to as materialism. It rests on the presupposition that reality consists of only that which can be observed, conceptualized, measured and quantified. This view, however, fails to do full justice to the way we see the world function.
Most of us are well aware that temporality is a defining feature of the physical realm. Material objects exist only for a limited period of time. Trees, people, animals, stars, galaxies come into being and eventually cease to exist. But despite the temporal nature of material phenomena one thing always remains: Existence itself. Even though physical objects come and go, they inescapably do so against the backdrop of being as such.
The analogy of a cinema screen helps illustrate this. As a film is being played images flash on the screen. The images change and replace one another, but the screen on which they come into view remains the same. What changes is only the pictures on the surface.
A similar dynamic takes place in the material world. Things and objects arise and vanish, but existence itself – the screen on which the procession of physical entities unfolds – stays unchanged. This numinous substratum is always there regardless of the configuration of physical manifestations which happen to occur at any particular point in time. It is this ground of being that would qualify for the designation of ultimate reality.
We can intuit this reality by a simple mental experiment in which we think away material phenomena. We can quite easily imagine this earth without objects or people or even without our own person in it. We can picture the universe without the earth and we can even imagine that the universe itself is not here. We can do this without inflicting any violence on logic or common sense.
But even when we think everything away, we will not be left with a complete nothing. What will remain in the end is existence itself. It is impossible to conceive of a state of affairs devoid of existence. It is inconceivable, because such a situation can never arise. Existence cannot be eradicated or destroyed, because it always is. After the material realm is stripped away there still remains irreducible residue which is pure, undiluted being.
Planets, galaxies and even the universe as we know it will eventually cease to be, but existence will always remain. It cannot not be. This is because unlike anything in the material realm, existence is not contingent upon anything else for its being.
It is from this substratum that all material phenomena spring forth. All things in the physical realm are but temporary manifestations of it. Like the cinema screen, it is the support on which the observable world is being unfolded.
People in different times and places have been able to intuit this ultimate reality. They called it by different names such as god, spirit, logos, the One, Christ, Adonai, consciousness, light, soul, Tao and such.
When speaking to Moses, God first identifies himself as “I AM THAT I AM.” In the final analysis this is about as much as can be said in human language about the final nature of that reality: It has always been and it will always be. It simply is.
This ground of being pervades and sustains everything. All things come from it and dissolve back into it. It holds everything together. And although it gives rise to multitude of forms, it itself is formless. It cannot be seen, quantified, located or even conceptualized. But it can be sensed by the human mind. It is, in fact, inbuilt into the very structure of our consciousness. It is our capacity to become aware of this changeless and indestructible presence behind the fleeting realm of material phenomena that points us to that eternal I AM.
Born and raised under communism, Vasko Kohlmayer is a naturalized American citizen. He has lived in several countries under various forms of government, but he still marvels at the goodness of God and the wonder of life.
He has written for a number of newspapers, magazines and internet journals. Vasko currently lives in Europe with his long-suffering wife and two beautiful daughters. He is the founder of The Christian Writers Foundation.