“The Prism Effect”
The following paragraphs are from our book “Take Off Your Shoes”
Consider the simple prism, an ordinary piece of multifaceted glass. As any school child knows, if we hold a prism up to a source of white light, and view the light through the glass, what was a single color will suddenly be seen quite differently: as a spectrum of separate, distinct colors. What was one (the single color white) now appears as many (purple, blue, green, yellow, orange, and red). Explaining this phenomenon in the classroom, we say that the prism has refracted or broken down the white light into its component parts. But, having said that, we must take care not to conclude that the parts exist independently of the whole. That is, the colors are not themselves separate, self-sustaining things which exist apart from the white light. They are not really parts at all. They are aspects of the whole and inseparable from it. The individual, apparently separate colors are just another way of seeing the one white light. Indeed, they are white light, seen differently. The spectrum purple-through-red is not a thing of itself, but simply white light viewed through a prism, and to demonstrate that point we have only to remove the prism, and the “other” colors disappear. They never really could exist at all without the white light, and they certainly were not separate entities, although in the glass they seemed to be. Again, the apparent separate and distinct reality of the spectrum is created by the prism (one color seen as many). Notice, too, that during our use of the prism, the white light is not itself actually changed, does not cease to exist as it was before or after our use of the prism, and in a very real sense, it is all that was ever really there.
Once again without seeking to understand why it might occur, suppose that one aspect of Creation were to hold up before its ”eyes” a similar prism, and then view itself and the rest through that piece of glass. Instantly, the One would be seen as many. The Whole, artificially broken into its apparent component parts, would suddenly look to the viewer as separate, varied, and distinct elements. Where there had been just white, there would now seem to be purple, blue, green, yellow, orange, and red. The One would not have become many, but it would appear as many (just as white light does not become the spectrum, it is seen as a spectrum). And, continuing with this illustrative device, suppose our viewer forgot for a moment that he was looking through a prism (perhaps in his fascination with the colors); he might eventually forget the exercise altogether, and come to believe that the colors are real in and of themselves, that they are all that there is, and that the image created by the prism is not just a refraction of something else but the universe itself. The universe would then be seen not as the single source of light that it is, the one stuff which is creation, as in “Let there be light”, but as the spectrum which it seems to be. What is one is now appears now to be many, and as the prism itself is forgotten, so is the source and nature of the spectrum, and we come to accept as self-sufficiently real and complete what is neither. (Those familiar with the chakra, or power-point, concept will recognize in this prism effect spectrum the colors corresponding to those points. There may be more to that similarity than coincidence!)
One immediately evident flaw in this illustration lies in the fact that it assumes a subject, the viewer, using some kind of instrument, a prism, to look at an object, everything else. The problem, of course, is that the viewer is himself part of what he is seeing in the prism; that is, we are seeing ourselves incorrectly as well as everything else. The subject-object relationship of a viewer looking through a prism at a light source is easy enough to imagine; but we cannot so easily paint a mental picture of a subject looking at itself in that way, a subject-subject relationship. The dualistic nature of our thought process which interprets everything separatively in subject-object terms precludes our grasping a subject-subject relationship, and may itself be a product of the prism effect. We think that way because the parameters we accept for our minds themselves grew out of our employment of the prism. As we see the universe, we see ourselves, and if we assume the one to be limited and separative, then so do we see the other. One equally flawed way to get around this flaw in the illustration might be to consider the glass not as being between the viewer and the viewed but as a prismatic mirror, whatever that may be. Then, we might imagine the One, or an aspect of the One, looking in the glass, and seeing itself in the refracted reflection as many.
In any case, with all its shortcomings, the prism effect construction does at least serve to suggest the nature of the problem before us. Virtually all the great spiritual or religious teachers, and others who might not include themselves in that category but who have nonetheless attempted to decipher life's mysteries, seem to arrive, if by various routes, to a common conclusion that somehow we are seeing the universe as it is not, that we are neither what nor where we think we are, and that from that first error of perception spring our difficulties, confusion, and discomfort. Clearly, if that is the case, all of our efforts to adapt to our perceived environment psychological, physical, and social are bound to fall short, generating ever-increasing frustration and renewed, equally doomed attempts to fit in. Having started off on the wrong foot, and headed in the wrong direction, we simply cannot get into step or flow with the universe unless and until we start over. It is not, apparently, so much that we have not yet found our own drummer and that we are listening to the wrong one, as it is that we do not hear the only drummer there is.
”Let them see who have eyes to see” is a lesson found in practically every discipline, and since we all obviously have eyes, the reference surely is to a different kind of seeing, a different set of eyes, than we have come to rely upon. Perhaps the reference is to eyes that can see the prism for what it is, and beyond it, and surely the first step toward that accomplishment is to recognize that we may be victims and products of our own error, of the prism effect.
Or, said somewhat differently, in a plutonic universe (for a discussion of this concept, please see Chapter 3 of our book “Take Off Your Shoes” ), in which we are promised to experience what we expect to experience, we have got to deal first with our expectations, and clearly they are directly a function of our beliefs about the nature of reality. We cannot expect what we cannot conceive of, and we can conceive of only what we believe to be possible or likely that is, as falling within the bounds or limits of reality as we believe it to be. To alter our reality, then, we have to alter our understanding of what is possible. We have to see the universe totally differently than we do now, otherwise everything that comes to us will simply be more of the same. As the saying goes, the more things change, the more they are the same; and this is true, and will remain true, so long as the changes are effected within the old framework. It is not our attitudes or actions that are at fault, although they are telling symptoms, but our point of departure. Again, we have got to start over, from the beginning, for it is at the beginning that there was light.
He is not in a thing nor a thing in Him, whether entering in or proceeding forth. It is necessary that thou know Him after this fashion, not by knowledge, nor by intellect, nor by understanding, nor by imagination, nor by sense, nor by the outward eye, nor by the inward eye, nor by perception. There does not see Him, save Himself; nor perceive Him, save Himself. By Himself He sees Himself, and by Himself He knows Himself. None sees Him other than He, and none perceives Him other than He. His Veil is [only a part of] His oneness; nothing veils other than He. His veil is [only] the concealment of His existence in His oneness, without any quality. None sees Him other than He — no sent prophet, nor saint made perfect, nor angel brought nigh knows Him. His Prophet is He, and His sending is He, and His word is He. He sent Himself with Himself to Himself. There was no mediator nor any means other than He. There is no difference between the Sender and the thing sent, and the person sent and the person to whom he is sent. The very existence of the prophetic message is His existence. There is no other, and there is no existence to other, than He, nor to its ceasing to be, nor to its name, nor to its named.
From our book “In The Beginning”
Now, looking at the scene [in the the Garden of Eden] in this new light, some of what had seemed confusing to us about The Fall account begins to make sense. Even the tree with its forbidden fruit assumes a different shape and an appropriate function. Consider, for example, the name of the tree, “The Knowledge of Good and Evil”. That single word “and” in the name gives away its secret to those whose ears will hear. In the beginning, when there was only One Thing, there was no word “and”. Of what use would it have been? The word “and” is a conjunction, and conjunctions serve to join or connect things. Where there is only one thing, there is nothing to connect. In the beginning, there was only God, no God and … anything. In fact, as we have observed, that was God’s problem. But eating of the fruit of this tree imparted “the knowledge of and”, a knowledge heretofore excluded from, or forbidden to, Paradise. Hence, we call it the “forbidden” fruit, a fruit whose effect is the world we know, the world of things, the world of “and”, a world denied or, again, forbidden, to the One. …
Notice too in this context that in Genesis God delegates to Adam the function of naming “every living creature”. To God in His Wholeness, there is no need for names. In Truth, there is only One “living creature”, God, and it is nameless, at least to Itself. After all, what use to name It? Who would address It? There is no other. It is only from the perspective of those with “the knowledge of and”, those who see the One as many, that things need to be named, to be distinguished each from another, to be addressed. To God it is all One, Himself. It’s All the Same to Me, God might say; but as Adam, it is quite another story. To Adam (remember, that’s God-as-Adam), it is boys and girls, and cats and dogs, and chickens and foxes, and all sorts of other good things!
“But with these eyes of yours you cannot see Me. I give you a divine eye; behold now, My sovereign yoga-power.” …
The One remains, the many change and pass;
Heaven’s light forever shines, Earth’s shadows fly;
Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass,
Stains the white radiance of Eternity,
Until Death tramples it to fragments.Die,
If thou wouldst be with that which thou dost seek!
Percy Bysshe Shelley
For now we see through a glass, darkly.
1 Corinthians 13:12
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