When a trippy hippy says “All is One” the natural response is to roll your eyes. Yet there is no other way to say it. The universal message of a breakthrough “spiritual” experience on psychedelics is just this: the world of separation and division is actually an illusion and the Ultimate Truth of Reality and the Ultimate Meaning of Life is contained in the fact that All is One.
But then what to do with this knowledge? When you come down from your high, all that One seems to be very many separate people and things indeed. Soon the vision of the One is just a distant memory and ordinary everyday reality is just “one damn thing after another”. Either you just forget about it, or you keep the knowledge in your heart as a precious secret, jealously guarded against the scoffing and mockery of unbelieving cynics and skeptics.
Some people have a full-blown experience of this mysterious Unity of Being or Being-ness, which they might describe using more philosophical or religious language, depending on their background. Others will have only heard about it second-hand through the reports of mystics and more traditional religious channels, and will take it on trust (call it “faith”) even if what they actually believe is a little hazy.
Talk of the One is a very Greek way of talking, basically Platonic and Neo-Platonic. The more common religious term is “God”. So what do you do with the belief or certain knowledge that All is One or that All is God? How do you reconcile the One with the Many or God and the world? At the very least, you try to live the best you can in the light of this knowledge, loving your neighbour as yourself, and so on and so forth. This “so on and so forth” is what is commonly called exoteric religion, or the “Outer Mysteries”. It is a complex of symbols, rituals and teachings designed to help you remember the One/God and is most concerned with, although obviously not limited to, moral conduct.
Some people are not satisfied with this “acting as if” and want to experience this All is One/All is God not once, not fleetingly, not vaguely, but over and over again, powerfully, incontrovertibly, ecstatically. They may follow a calling to dedicate themselves to prayer and meditation as a monastic. They may heed the call of psychedelics. Some will fail in this quest for the Holy Grail, the Beatific Vision, and some will succeed.
Those that succeed establish a cycle of remembering and forgetting, journeying back and forth between the One God and the the world of multiplicity. This is often expressed as a kind of death or ego death, as the separate self dissolves into the Oneness, and a rebirth or resurrection, as the world reemerges with the freshness of a new creation. Here we are dealing with the “Inner Mysteries”, the esoteric, hidden teachings of religion.
Eventually the One and the Many become experienced simultaneously, so that neither one nor the other is completely forgotten. This is described in religious terminology as the Presence of God, in which we “live and move and have our being”. Finally the One and the Many fuse in a non-dual synthesis, where Samsara is Nirvana. It is the third step in Shankara’s famous formula, “the world is illusion; Brahman is the only reality; the world is Brahman”. Here there is no more doubt or confusion. Thou art That. The One and the Many are One. You are now one of the hidden children of the living God.
Addendum – a text exchange with a friend
>You put it well – although I don’t see why ‘all is one’ is synonymous with ‘all is God’; they seem very different propositions. … Do you think consideration of the universe’s causal closure could lead to the same conclusion, that all is connected? If all that is has a common big-bang origin, then all is connected, nothing is separate. …
>No that’s not ‘all is one’, that’s ‘everything is connected’.
>I was happy to go from ‘everything is connected’ to ‘all is one’ – what’s the bridge there?
>If the physical universe is causally closed there is no possibility of Unity.
>You mean between God and Her creation?
>I described two unities – the unity of all existence (‘All is One’) and the unity of God and His creation (‘the One and the Many are One). But it’s the same unity, just realised dualistically or non-dualistically.
>So why does causal closure disallow unity?
>Because it’s a system of separate interconnected causal relations. If you were a causally closed physical system it would make no sense to say that you are ‘one person’.
>These fish are slippery and the wriggle. I thought the thought was that, because all things are connected, they are part of a single system. I thought the common psychedelic experience was that all things are intimately connected and that therefore all is one.
>No it’s deeper than that. That’s just an abstract thought. Think of a watch. For the sake of argument let’s say that it’s a closed system (although it’s not). It derives its identity (i.e. unity) as a ‘watch’ only from a human observer.
The observing person has an abstract concept of ‘watch’ associated with the object in front of her. This confers a borrowed abstract watch-identity that wouldn’t exist without the observer outside the system of cogs and wheels.
But both this conferred abstract watch-identity and the conferred abstract universe-identity projected by a human consciousness contemplating the totality of existence are just thoughts. They’re just concepts. They’re not actual Unity.
The relation between a human consciousness and a watch is not analogous to the relation between God and the universe because God IS the universe. A better analogy is the relation between your consciousness and your body.
Human consciousness cannot grasp that ‘All is One’ except as an abstract concept similar to ‘Everything is Connected’. The experience of ‘All is One’ is only possible through participation in God consciousness.
Which explains why ‘All is One’ is the same thing as ‘All is God’.
>Isn’t it heretical to suppose God is the universe? Isn’t the universe his creation, independent of its maker, but tweakable by him?
>You aren’t very Christian.
>That’s a quasi-Deist heresy (although apparently Deism was never really much of a thing).
Christians who don’t understand Christianity aren’t very Christian. I’ve done my homework. My understanding is perfectly orthodox.
>Further mysteries then: how the ‘maker of heaven and earth’ becomes heaven and earth.
>That’s for Him to know and you to wonder!
Christians believe that God made heaven and earth out of himself not out of some random stuff that happened to be lying around. In Genesis 1 he sets himself against the void and separates the waters from the waters etc. but it’s all Him. Creation is a descent and division of the One as Plotinus describes in The Enneads. But it’s all contained in the One.
>Not the Christianity I’m familiar with, but fine. Creation becomes God’s extended mind, in the same way our phones are now integral to our being.
>Something like that.
>But I think my first point is valid. It’s a boring old conceptual point but still valid. Consideration of the common origin of all things in the Big Bang leads to the conclusion that all is connected. (But if the past were infinite, then some things might have remained independent of others.)
But maybe this point is: all is connected under the aspect of history.
Maybe the psychedelic insight is: everything is connected now in the present (and forget the past).
>Well now you’re getting into time and space…
Time is contained within the One (which is timeless). But it’s even weirder and harder to describe than the unity of space in the One.
Your point at least points to a kind of aboriginal unity, which suggests a subsequent unity, but if a family sense (‘we are family!’) But because it presupposes emergence rather than emanation it cannot support real unity. The original unity must transcend time and space and create from above not below (so to speak).
There is an interesting comparison to be made between the Jewish idea of history and genealogy (as the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) and the Christian revelation, which cuts through history, so that you don’t have to be part of the Jewish clan to be saved or have a special relationship with God.
Christianity is both historical and ahistorical.
“Before Abraham was, I am”.
But also, “before the Big Bang was, I am”.
I think that the difference of opinion between my friend and I can be understood as arising from a vertical versus a horizontal view of existence. The phrase “All is One” can be taken in either sense. The horizontal sense is arithmetical – the Oneness that is All Things is seen as the summation of everything in existence as a spatial set and/or as a temporal sequence – a bit like summing all colours and ending up with white.
My point was that this is just an act of the imagination, just a thought, a theoretical as opposed to actual Oneness. On the horizontal plane, even if you managed to include and count everything in the universe, leaving nothing out, there is no way you could force this enormous multiplicity into a unity. Saying that all these things are members of a single logical set, called “universe” or “existence”, is just a thought, just another element in the multiplicity of things.
The vertical sense is not mathematical. To experience the One is not to think the One. All thought is transcended. All things are transcended. The One is experienced on a higher plane, a higher state of consciousness, beyond multiplicity and mutability. However, it is not a transcendental Thing separate from other things. It somehow includes all things. The One is beyond the Many but the Many are included in the One. All things flow from the One as their Source and return to the One as their End. It is the Alpha and Omega of all things.
The hippy “All is One” tends to be horizontal, and shades into “Everything is Connected”. The neo-Platonic, mystical, esoteric, Christian “All is One” is vertical. Psychedelics can elicit both types, but in my personal opinion (and in my personal experience) the second is deeper (or higher). A medium to high dose of dried magic can open your eyes to the hippy “All is One”, but a heroic dose can open them to the neo-Platonic “All is One”. The first vision feels very real; the second feels realer than real – the Real itself.