Beyond Metaphysics, Let's Talk about my Grandchild
It was a little disappointing. I wanted to talk metaphysics but my friend Cathy wanted to talk about her granddaughter. I wanted to talk about the first principles of the cosmos - space and time and ultimate reality, that kind of thing - and she wanted to talk about Deborah. Who was the wiser? I think I know, and Bob Mesle knows, too.
If you are grandparent, or perhaps a new mother or father, or if you have a child who is sick, you will have an intuition that Bob Mesle shares in this essay. It is that your loved one - in Bob’s case, his grandson Elliot - is the ultimate reality. This doesn’t mean that your grandchild lives forever. Your grandchild will eventually “withdraw into the cosmic whole,” as will we all. But in your grandchild’s life there is a preciousness, an ‘intrinsic value’ to Bob’s phrase, that is as ultimate as anything there is. Oh yes, our universe may be inhabited by gods and goddesses; they, too, may have their preciousness. But there’s no need to compare one precious life with another. In their glorious finitude they are loci of incomparable value. We do well to remember this if we are prone to think too cosmically. Here, in this life, and in that one, too, is where beauty lies. As Bob puts it, Elliot is Brahman.
- Jay McDaniel, March 19, 2021
My Grandson is Brahman and You are, Too Each Actuality is a Face of the Ultimate Web
Bernard Loomer wrote that the true good emerges from deeply mutual relationships.1 For any person or any other creature to have its own intrinsic value, is precisely for it to be one more face of the infinite web of value out of which it arises.
Barbara and I live in the Iowa countryside, surrounded by woods and fields, with a beautiful five-acre pond down the hill. When our daughter, Sarah, was due to have our first grandchild, Barbara and I were packed and ready to leave at a moment’s notice in hopes of making it to Chicago for the birth. The call came at 5:30 a.m. on Sept 7, 2006. We leapt out of bed, and while Barbara packed the last few things I took our two golden retrievers, Abe and Ellie, for a last walk down by the pond.
The moment was magical. The full moon was deep red, sitting exactly atop the hill to the west. Dawn’s rosy fingers were just beginning to reach up from the east. A beautiful mist covered the pond where the summer-warmed water kissed the cool September air. As we walked across the dam I looked into the mist with my heart full of anticipation of the new life about to join us, and something important happened to me. To explain it, I must first back up a little.
At that time I was preparing to teach the Bhagavad-Gita, which includes one of the greatest accounts of revelation in all religious literature. The God, Krishna, reveals himself to Arjuna, as Brahman, the ultimate reality. Brahman, the infinite, eternal, all inclusive reality, is so great that even the Gods themselves are only a few of the many faces of Brahman. Each of us, too, is one face of Brahman. Let me share just a few key lines from this great text.
Look, Arjuna: thousands, millions of my divine forms, beings of all kinds and sizes, of every color and shape. … The whole universe, all things animate or inanimate, are gathered here—look!—enfolded inside my infinite body. … Arjuna saw the whole universe enfolded, with its countless billions of life-forms, gathered together in the body of the God of gods. … Arjuna said… I see you everywhere, with billions of arms, eyes, bellies, faces, without end, middle, or beginning, your body the whole universe, Lord.2
This passage was very much on my mind and in my heart that morning. Looking into that mist I had my own small vision of Brahman—not with billions of heads and arms, but a few. Then, for just a moment, I saw a tiny new face pressed out of Brahman.3 Soon it withdrew into the cosmic whole--as we all eventually do. I stood with tears of joy pouring down my face. Later we learned that our new grandchild was a boy, Elliot. As with our own children, when I look into his eyes, what I see smiling back at me is not just Elliot, but Brahman.
It was a mystical moment, linking me unexpectedly with one of the most ancient of religious traditions, in which the awesome mystery of our deepest reality and inter-being reached out and drew me in. Whatever is, is Brahman, including you and me, and any God or Gods there may be. The traditions of India teach us that if we all understood fully our inter-relatedness in Brahman, the world would be a better place for children and other living creatures. I agree. Elliot Matters. He Matters because he is one face of the ultimate web of reality, Brahman, which itself is the depth dimension of all reality and all value which I understand Whitehead to be struggling to describe. As a process relational-philosopher I will wish to have further discussions of the nature of the reality named Brahman, but for now I see it as a beautiful symbol for why it is that Sarah, Mark, Elliot, and you and I, all Matter.
Whitehead shows us that each actual entity or society of entities, including each person, but reaching far beyond the boundaries of human beings, exists precisely and only by arising out of the whole infinite web of reality and value. Yes, each actual entity, each actual experiencing subject, does have value for itself. Yet, its value, its existence, can only be actual as it becomes one more face of the infinite web of relationships extending infinitely back in time, and moving infinitely forward in the creative advance. A full understanding of the becoming of any single actuality would reveal the value emergent from all that infinity which has gone before, and the potential for infinite values yet to emerge.
Whitehead’s principle of relativity implies that each new actuality, like a new moment in the life of a person, can only come to have feelings of its own value because it first prehends or grasps the values of others who have gone before, and by anticipating the contributions it might make to future experiencers who share its feelings.4
1. Bernard Loomer, “Two Conceptions of Power,” in Criterion, Chicago, The Divinity School of the University of Chicago, 15:1, Winter 1976, 21. The exact quotation is “The true good is an emergent from deeply mutual relationships.” I have modified it partly to make it more consistent with Weiman’s verb, “emerging.”
2. Stephen Mitchell, Bhagavad-Gita: A New Translation, Three-Rivers Press, NY, 2000. Excerpts from page 132-5.
3. Dr. Meera Chakravorty, Professor of Sanskrit at Bangalore University, suggests that it might be appropriate here to speak of Brahmanda here--Brahman expressed as the manifold of the world, as distinguished from the undifferentiated ultimate, Brahman. (Email correspondence March 19 & 21, 2010) Brahmanda is symbolized as the cosmic egg from which the world emerged. Dr. Mousumi Roy, another colleague from India who attended the HIARPT conference in Assisi in 2008, argues in favor of keeping Brahman. (Email correspondence 3.20.2010) Overall, I think Brahman works if we keep in mind the traditional distinction between Brahman unmanifest, and Brahman as manifest in the manifold. I refer to the latter here.