I want to share an open secret with everyone: Spirit is definitely Higher.
That might seem obvious at first. Everybody seems to already know that the nature of God or Spirit or Consciousness or Being is higher in meaning, value, and inherent glory than the separate ego or the unique objects that make up the world around us. But I think we tend, more often than not, to overlook or just not see the profound implications of that simple truth.
Spirit is generally seen and understood to be the grand unifying principle behind all apparent difference. And while the absolute or nonrelative nature of Spirit or God is indivisible from and incomparable to anything else, the face of Spirit is always a paradox. When the veil of ignorance or unenlightenment is lifted and its true nature is revealed, two apparently contradictory events occur simultaneously. The first is that everything that exists and everything that doesn’t exist is all recognized to be part of one indivisible process. The second is that actual and real distinctions become more sharp and apparent than in ordinary states of consciousness—distinctions between matter and consciousness, life and death, being and becoming, and good and evil. What is directly revealed and illuminated in these moments is the inherently hierarchical nature of Spirit, as it becomes all of manifestation. It becomes even more obvious, for example, that sentient life forms are higher or more sacred than rocks or dirt, and that morals are higher and more sacred than individual desires.
Spirit as the Absolute is both formlessness and form. Unmanifest Spirit is the eternal, timeless, empty ground of all Being, where there is no birth or death, and nothing ever happened. Manifest Spirit is eros, the creative impulse, the evolutionary telos, the cosmic utopian urge towards greater and greater perfection and utter and total completeness. Ecstatic reaching and striving is Manifest Spirit’s one and only posture. It is always active and creative. That dynamic and mysterious Becoming is the process by which absolutely everything emerged from nothingness. It’s a process in which ever-greater complexity and higher integration continually arise out of lesser forms. And as that process awakens to itself at the level of consciousness—through the human heart and mind—in the very act of becoming aware, slowly but surely, it begins to make distinctions. Important ones. Distinctions that determine greater and lesser value, distinctions that discern the difference between that which is lower and that which is higher. While the process itself is, in all its parts, that indivisible One beyond all difference, the infinite worlds that arise and disappear within that process are the Many that, by definition, express difference in ever-changing and infinite variety. And inherent in that difference is hierarchy, the distinction between that which is lower and that which is higher.
So how does knowing this affect the way we see the world and the way we relate to the experience of being alive? What does it mean about our philosophical ideas? What does it mean about our moral convictions? What does it mean about our deepest and most cherished spiritual values? Indeed, what does it mean about how we see other human beings, nature, the cosmos, and even Spirit itself? If Spirit, or God, is that which is always Highest, then how does that affect our perspectives and our judgments? Are they always informed by the natural hierarchy inherent at every level of the very fabric of the cosmos?
This natural hierarchy exists at the level of matter, as we recognize the difference between atoms, molecules, and cells, and it also exists at the level of consciousness, as we discern the difference between varying levels of moral development and levels of spiritual attainment.
This is a complex discussion because, as we all know, first and foremost Spirit is the grand unifier. In its revelation, there is the undeniable recognition that we have never been separate and there is only One. But, as we have seen, the contours of that which is only One, as it becomes manifest, contain countless dimensions and levels that are not all the same. This is very important to understand. Why? Because our capacity to manifest that which is highest here on Earth—wisdom, insight, evolutionarily enlightened awareness, and deep, impersonal, spiritual love—is entirely dependent upon our being able to discern what can at times be subtle differences. Our own evolution at the deepest level of our being depends upon our willingness to strive consistently to make philosophically and morally challenging distinctions.
Spirit is One. But the nature of Spirit as it becomes manifest is the Many. As it moves on its unending journey from Being to Becoming, from Nothing to Everything and back again, our capacity to recognize and honor difference and to distinguish lower from higher is what makes it possible for the Sacred, for the true face of Spirit, to shine through each and every one of us, as Itself, in the very world that it alone created.
Andrew Cohen is a spiritual teacher and founder of the award-winning EnlightenNext magazine. Click to learn more about his new book Evolutionary Enlightenment: A New Path to Spiritual Awakening.