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The Beginning


Excerpted from ‘Let There Be Life’ (published by Paulist Press, 2002)

By Robert Fripp

Verse 1. In the beginning was darkness and the silence of the void. And the spirit of God looked out upon the void, and was alone within it.

Verse 1, commentary ~ For the authors of Genesis the moment of Creation was the start of time, the point at which Divine Will began to create and ordain the destiny of universe. ‘In the Beginning’, order was imposed upon chaos and lights appeared in the eternal night. Contemporary science recognizes a similar moment from which the universe emerged to flow onward in time, and out, ever out into space.

“In the Beginning …”

The beginning, and destruction. The Pillars of Creation in the Eagle Nebula

Astronomers used NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope to assemble a larger, sharper image of the Eagle Nebula’s “Pillars of Creation”. Credit: NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), J. Hester, P. Scowen (Arizona State University.) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pillars_of_Creation

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” We are culturally conditioned to regress to “In the beginning…” Better, surely, to imagine the presumed moment “beginning” as the Instant of Realization. In terms of a governing cosmic force or intellect, that is what it must have been. Shifting the emphasis lets our limited comprehension ponder that colossal moment without falling into: what existed before the beginning? before there was anything at all?

If we could know …

… the primary cause. But then, if the elusive secrets of the cosmos stood revealed, we could no longer seduce the beauty of its mysteries. Ecclesiasticus describes such wisdom: ‘The first man knew her not perfectly: no more shall the last find her out.’ After all, if one were all-knowing, all-wise, one would be God. If there is one.

If God does not exist

If God does not exist, the classical Chinese model of the cosmos will serve as well as any. There, the universe becomes an endless “web without a weaver.” In the Western sense the very word “Creation” implies that it is the product of a higher intellect, which in turn elicits images of primordial chaos brought to order, substance and form by the conscious act of a Creator. Eastern traditions do not view the cosmos as the manifestation of a single God. Rather, they hold that it exists because it exists, uncreated, unending, forever changing in order to remain the same, and driven by the dictates of its own dynamic nature.

Western man prefers to fall back on the comforting notion of Creator. Thus Emerson: “There is never a beginning, there is never an end, to the inexplicable continuity of this web of God.” Emerson seems to want to impose a Western-style God on the Tao.

To the Eastern mind

To the Eastern mind, the eternal process unfolds as a balance between two opposed or complementary forces. As such, one might view cosmic evolution as an unceasing contest between two polar spiritual complements: Yin/Yang; Yab/Yum (father and mother, in Tibet); Good and Evil; Darkness and Light; God and the Devil in some form or another. And then there is Shelley:

“To suppose that the world was created and is superintended by two spirits of a balanced power and opposite dispositions, is simply a personification of the struggle which we perceive in the operations of external things as they affect us, between good and evil.” [i]

Duality and chaos

Even if one denies an opposed duality in the spiritual world, one recognizes its physical counterparts: order and chaos; matter and energy; space and time; day and night; heat and cold. Gravity holds galaxies together while centrifugal forces throw them apart. And stars would collapse beneath their weight were it not for nuclear forces supporting them. Thus nature appears in constant conflict with itself, its energies for ever trying to cancel one another out.

But where one would expect the resulting product to be nothing, it becomes, well, everything. Such are the apparent contradictions by which complementary forces combine to form the perfect whole.

An Eastern perspective

It is easier to comprehend this state of affairs from a Taoist or Vedic point of view than from a Judeo-Christian one. True Buddhist enlightenment reflects the emancipation of a mind that has learned to reconcile Creation’s apparently opposing natures. On one hand Creation exists through its dynamic, ever-changing material forms; on the other hand it manifests itself as passive wisdom, constant, absolute and undefilable, transcending all apparent contradiction. The Buddha taught that such a reconciliation must be experienced through the enlightenment achieved by meditation. Enlightenment can never be gained through intellect alone: it stems from gaining direct insight that all apparent opposites are manifestations of a single, indivisible whole. Buddha remarked of his own enlightenment: “Ignorance was dispelled, and science [true knowledge] arose; the darkness was dispelled, and the light arose.”

Western precepts prefer to define the nature of Creation rather more precisely. Our materialist perception demands a well-defined Creator, one that will eventually triumph over the dark satanic forces of our insecurities. Surely, we like to think, only God’s light could penetrate the darkness of the original void, and only God could frame order out of chaos. “He had first matter seen undresst before one rag of form was on.”[ii]

The Beginning ... Creation lives, and it dies. Supernova SN 2014J

Creation lives, and it dies. Here is a measure of destruction. Supernova SN 2014J exploded 12 million light-years away. Its light reached us not long ago. Image by NASA. ~ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SN_2014J

The materialist tradition in Western culture goes back to the first known philosophers. In the beginning these were descendants of Animists for whom external forms of matter were the merest accident. God, or Manitou, might speak as clearly from a rock, a hill, a burning bush or the freshly-killed carcass of a hunter’s caribou. An unwitting slave to his ancestral precepts, even Thomas Aquinas found it necessary to fall back upon physical analogy to demonstrate the existence of God. All things, he wrote, are moved by other things, smaller ones by larger, and so on up the line. From which he inferred that every thing is ultimately moved at the whim of a Prime Mover, which he called God. Aquinas found the idea of a self-directing universe inconceivable–as absurd as the notion that a hammer and saw should build a box without a carpenter to guide them. Aquinas saw the cosmos as the product of the first, the uncaused, cause, the carpenter, “which we call God.” As such we can define God, assigning attributes to It which fall within the framework and purposes of human understanding. Thus, God is good, or to be loved, or feared. But, as Aquinas put it, we can never know directly what It is.

On that last point, Aquinas seems in agreement with Hindu cosmogony. Brahman, the “Absolute,” may choose to make Itself manifest. Thus we are told, “All that exists is Brahman.” At other times, “Brahman is truth.” By its very nature, Brahman, like Thomas Aquinas’ sense of God, is impossible to confine, let alone depict.

Another Notion of Creation

Another notion of Creation is more sentient, more human. Hardly surprising, then, that it falls between the concept of a godless eternity and one in which God is revealed through the physical dynamics of Its universe. J.B.S. Haldane makes the case for a universe that is much, much more than one of blind mechanism. It becomes for him a spiritual entity which, though seen imperfectly, has neither matter nor motion as its central truth, but rather the force of mind. Having gone that far, Haldane ventures to suggest that the cosmos might not only be queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose. That accords well with Emily Dickinson’s contention: “Had we the first intimation of the Definition of Life, the calmest of us would be Lunatics!”

Better to set insanity aside

Better to set insanity aside and take up reason. The physical sciences yield valuable indirect knowledge of an emerging concept of universe, but, even so, such knowledge can never take the place of direct perception. For example, a blind person can infer a great deal about sunlight from its warmth upon skin, going on to make accurate inferences about the nature of its source. Inference, however, is a poor substitute for sight. We are all similarly limited by physical senses that cannot adequately assess the nature of consciousness, the major tool we use to form our own ideas of universe.

Awareness coming home to us

That sort of awareness will not come home to us just because we look ever farther outward with the aid of telescopes or sophisticated inter-stellar probes. It will come when science turns itself around and looks inward with a perceptive inner eye to find that God, reality and the universe are really very close as well as far away. God may be no more than consciousness, and those who, in a material age, can still contemplate the night sky and wonder at the mysteries of Earth will find in themselves the cosmos as well as its microcosm. When we understand that, we shall be able to straddle the universe with perfect ease, and measure its dimensions.

[i] The Poems of P. B. Shelley, (Nbk 15 34-6; BSM xiv 41-5)

[ii] Hudibras, Part 1 of 3, by Samuel Butler, 1663

‘In the Beginning’ is excerpted from ‘Let There Be Life‘ (published by Paulist Press, 2002)

Copyright by Robert Fripp

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