Rupert Sheldrake: A Theosophical Appraisal
Part 1: Morphic Fields and the Memory of Nature
Most biologists take it for granted that living organisms are nothing but complex machines, governed only by the known laws of physics and chemistry. I myself used to share this point of view. But over a period of several years I came to see that such an assumption is difficult to justify. For when so little is actually understood, there is an open possibility that at least some of the phenomena of life depend on laws or factors as yet unrecognized by the physical sciences.1
With these words biologist Rupert Sheldrake introduced his first book, A New Science of Life: The hypothesis of formative causation, published in 1981. It met with a mixed response: while welcomed as ‘challenging and stimulating’ by some, the journal Nature dismissed it as an ‘infuriating tract ... the best candidate for burning there has been for many years’. Sheldrake developed his ideas further in The Presence of the Past: Morphic resonance and the habits of nature (1988) and The Rebirth of Nature: The greening of science and God (1991).
His basic argument is that natural systems, or morphic units, at all levels of complexity – atoms, molecules, crystals, cells, tissues, organs, organisms, and societies of organisms – are animated, organized, and coordinated by morphic fields, which contain an inherent memory. Natural systems inherit this collective memory from all previous things of their kind by a process called morphic resonance, with the result that patterns of development and behavior become increasingly habitual through repetition. Sheldrake suggests that there is a continuous spectrum of morphic fields, including morphogenetic fields, behavioral fields, mental fields, and social and cultural fields.
Morphogenesis – literally, the ‘coming into being’ (genesis) of ‘form’ (morphe) – is something of a mystery. How do complex living organisms arise from much simpler structures such as seeds or eggs? How does an acorn manage to grow into an oak tree, or a fertilized human egg into an adult human being? A striking characteristic of living organisms is the capacity to regenerate, ranging from the healing of wounds to the replacement of lost limbs or tails. Organisms are clearly more than just complex machines: no machine has ever been known to grow spontaneously from a machine egg or to regenerate after damage! Unlike machines, organisms are more than the sum of their parts; there is something within them that is holistic and purposive, directing their development toward certain goals.
Although modern mechanistic biology grew up in opposition to vitalism – the doctrine that living organisms are organized by nonmaterial vital factors – it has introduced purposive organizing principles of its own, in the form of genetic programs. Genetic programs are sometimes likened to computer programs, but whereas computer programs are designed by intelligent beings, genetic programs are supposed to have been thrown together by chance! In recent years a number of leading developmental biologists have suggested that the misleading concept of genetic programs be abandoned in favor of terms such as ‘internal representation’ or ‘internal description’. Exactly what these representations and descriptions are supposed to be has still to be explained.
The role of genes is vastly overrated by mechanistic biologists. The genetic code in the DNA molecules determines the sequence of amino acids in proteins; it does not specify the way the proteins are arranged in cells, cells in tissues, tissues in organs, and organs in organisms. As Sheldrake remarks:
Given the right genes and hence the right proteins, and the right systems by which protein synthesis is controlled, the organism is somehow supposed to assemble itself automatically. This is rather like delivering the right materials to a building site at the right times and expecting a house to grow spontaneously.2
The fact that all the cells of an organism have the same genetic code yet somehow behave differently and form tissues and organs of different structures clearly indicates that some formative influence other than DNA must be shaping the developing organs and limbs. Developmental biologists acknowledge this, but their mechanistic explanations peter out into vague statements about ‘complex spatio-temporal patterns of physico-chemical interaction not yet fully understood’.
According to Sheldrake, the development and maintenance of the bodies of organisms are guided by morphogenetic fields. The concept of morphogenetic fields has been widely adopted in developmental biology, but the nature of these fields has remained obscure, and they are often conceived of in conventional physical and chemical terms. According to Sheldrake, they are a new kind of field so far unknown to physics. They are localized within and around the systems they organize, and contain a kind of collective memory on which each member of the species draws and to which it in turn contributes. The fields themselves therefore evolve.
Each morphic unit has its own characteristic morphogenetic field, nested in that of a higher-level morphic unit which helps to coordinate the arrangement of its parts. For example, the fields of cells contain those of molecules, which contain those of atoms, etc. The inherent memory of these fields explains, for example, why newly synthesized chemical compounds crystallize more readily all over the world the more often they are made.
Before considering other types of morphic fields, it is worth examining exactly what a morphic field is supposed to be. Sheldrake describes them as ‘fields of information’, saying that they are neither a type of matter nor of energy and are detectable only by their effects on material systems. However, if morphic fields were completely nonmaterial, that would imply that they were pure nothingness, and it is hard to see how fields of nothingness could possibly have any effect on the material world!* In a discussion with David Bohm, Sheldrake does in fact concede that morphic fields may have a subtle energy, but not in any ‘normal’ (physical) sense of the term, since morphic fields can propagate across space and time and do not fade out noticeably over distance.3 In this sense morphic fields would be a subtler form of energy-substance, too ethereal to be detectable by scientific instruments. Sheldrake also suggests that morphic fields may be very closely connected with quantum matter fields.4 According to science, the universal quantum field forms the substratum of the physical world and is pulsating with energy and vitality; it amounts to the resurrection of the concept of an ether, a medium of subtle matter pervading all of space.
*The reason Sheldrake uses the term ‘formative causation’ to refer to his hypothesis of the causation of form by morphic fields is precisely to distinguish it from ‘energetic causation’, the kind of causation brought about by known physical fields such as gravity and electromagnetism. Formative causation is said to impose a spatial order on changes brought about by energetic causation. The dualism Sheldrake introduces with his distinction between energetic and non-energetic causation is rather unsatisfactory. It is all the more remarkable given that Sheldrake criticizes other forms of dualism, such as the idea of a nonmaterial mind acting on a material body (Cartesian dualism), and the idea that the material world is governed by nonmaterial ‘laws’ of nature.
Instinctive behavior, learning, and memory also defy explanation in mechanistic terms. As Sheldrake remarks, ‘An enormous gulf of ignorance lies between all these phenomena and the established facts of molecular biology, biochemistry, genetics and neurophysiology’.5 How could purposive instinctive behavior such as the building of webs by spiders or the migrations of swallows ever be explained in terms of DNA and protein synthesis?
According to Sheldrake, habitual and instinctive behavior is organized by behavioral fields, while mental activity, conscious and unconscious, takes place within and through mental fields. Instincts are the behavioral habits of the species and depend on the inheritance of behavioral fields, and with them a collective memory, from previous members of the species by morphic resonance. The building up of an animal’s own habits also depends on morphic resonance. It is possible for habits acquired by some animals to facilitate the acquisition of the same habits by other similar animals, even in the absence of any known means of connection or communication. This explains how after rats have learned a new trick in one place, other rats elsewhere seem to be able to learn it more easily.
Memory poses a thorny problem for materialists. Attempts to locate memory-traces within the brain have so far proved unsuccessful. Experiments have shown that memory is both everywhere and nowhere in particular. Sheldrake suggests that the reason for the recurrent failure to find memory-traces in brains is very simple: they do not exist there. He goes on: ‘A search inside your TV set for traces of the programs you watched last week would be doomed to failure for the same reason: The set tunes in to TV transmissions but does not store them.’6 It is true that damage to specific areas of the brain can impair memory in certain ways, but this does not prove that the relevant memories were stored in the damaged tissues. Likewise, damage to parts of a TV circuitry can lead to loss or distortion of the picture but this does not prove that the pictures were stored inside the damaged components.
Sheldrake suggests that memories are associated with morphic fields and that remembering depends on morphic resonance with these fields. He says that individual memory is due to the fact that organisms resonate most strongly with their own past, but that organisms are also influenced by morphic resonance from others of their kind through a sort of pooled memory, similar to the concept of the collective unconscious put forward by Jung and other depth psychologists.
According to Sheldrake, morphic resonance involves the transfer of information but not of energy. But it is difficult to see how the one can take place without the other, though the type of energy involved may well be supraphysical. In theosophical terms, the physical world is interpenetrated by a series of increasingly ethereal worlds or planes, composed of energy-substances beyond our range of perception, sometimes called the akasha. Its lower levels are referred to as the astral light. An impression of every thought, deed, and event is imprinted on the akasha, which therefore forms a sort of memory of nature. Likewise, within and around the physical body there is a series of subtler ‘bodies’ composed of these more ethereal states of matter.
Memories, then, are impressed on the etheric substance of supraphysical planes, and we gain access to these records by vibrational synchrony, these vibrations being transmitted through the astral light. Sheldrake, however, rejects the idea of morphic resonance being transmitted through a ‘morphogenetic aether’, saying that ‘a more satisfactory approach may be to think of the past as pressed up, as it were, against the present, and as potentially present everywhere’.7 But it is hard to see why such a hazy notion is more satisfactory than that of nonphysical energies being transmitted through an etheric medium.
Social organization is also impossible to understand in reductionist and mechanistic terms. Societies of termites, ants, wasps, and bees can contain thousands or even millions of individual insects. They can build large elaborate nests, exhibit a complex division of labor, and reproduce themselves. Such societies have often been compared to organisms at a higher level of organization, or superorganisms. Studies have shown that termites, for example, can speedily repair damage to their mounds, rebuilding tunnels and arches, working from both sides of the breach that has been made, and meeting up perfectly in the middle, even though the insects are blind.
Sheldrake suggests that such colonies are organized by social fields, embracing all the individuals within them. This would also help to explain the behavior of shoals of fish, flocks of birds, and herds or packs of animals, whose coordination has so far also defied explanation. Social morphic fields can be thought of as coordinating all patterns of social behavior, including human societies. This would throw light on such things as crowd behavior, panics, fashions, crazes, and cults. Social fields are closely allied with cultural fields, which govern the inheritance and transmission of cultural traditions.
Sheldrake’s hypothesis of morphic fields and morphic resonance is of course anathema to mechanistic biologists. It also goes further than many forms of systems theory, whose advocates recognize the holistic properties of living organisms and the need for some sort of organizing principles, but generally avoid proposing that there are new kinds of causal entities in nature, such as fields unknown to physics. Instead they use vague terms such as complex self-organizing systems, self-regulatory properties, emergent organizing principles, and self-organizing patterns of information – expressions which are descriptive but have little explanatory power.
According to Sheldrake, then, human beings consist of a physical body, whose shape and structure are organized by a hierarchy of morphogenetic fields, one for every atom, molecule, cell, and organ up to the body as a whole. Our habitual activities are organized by behavioral fields, one for each pattern of behavior, and our mental activity by mental fields, one for each thought or idea. Sheldrake also suggests that our conscious self may be regarded either as the subjective aspect of the morphic fields that organize the brain, or as a higher level of our being which interacts with the lower fields and serves as the creative ground through which new fields arise.8
This is reminiscent of the theosophical idea that humans are composed of several interpenetrating and interacting bodies, souls, or vehicles of consciousness, which consist of energies and substances of different grades, and live and function on the inner planes. The lowest body, and the only one normally visible to us, is the physical body. It is built up around an astral model body. Every living entity has a model body, which is relatively permanent and therefore explains how physical shapes preserve their identities and characteristic forms despite the constant turnover of their physical constituents.
Working through the human physical and model bodies are two closely related vehicles of consciousness composed of still finer substances, which may be called the animal soul and the lower human soul. These four lower bodies are associated with the human personality – with the desires, emotions, thoughts, and habits of the lower mind. After death they disintegrate into their constituent physical or astral atoms at different rates on their different planes. There are also three higher souls, composed of more refined akashic substances: the higher human soul or reincarnating ego, the spiritual soul, and the divine soul. These higher vehicles are the source of our nobler feelings, aspirations, and intuitions, and endure for a time period immeasurably longer than do the lower vehicles.
As we move up the ladder of life from the mineral kingdom through the plant and animal kingdoms to the human kingdom, the degree of individualization increases, as the higher vehicles become more able to express themselves through the more sophisticated physical forms. In the human kingdom a selfconscious mind develops, bringing with it free will and moral responsibility.
After death, the reincarnating ego is said to enter a dreamlike state of rest until the time comes for it to return to earth. As it reawakens and redescends towards the material realms, it draws back to itself many of the same life-atoms which had formerly composed its lower vehicles and which therefore bear the karmic impress of previous lives. Life after life we therefore build habits of thought, feeling, and behavior into the different levels of our constitution. The formation of habits can be understood in terms of nature’s fundamental tendency to follow the line of least resistance and to repeat itself. The vital and electric impulses and energies moving within and between the different levels of our constitution are more likely to repeat past pathways and vibrational forms, associated with particular patterns of thought and behavior, than they are to follow or assume new ones – unless forced to do so by our will.
According to Sheldrake we are also influenced by social and cultural fields contained within the overall field of the earth. In theosophy we are said to contribute thoughts and ideas to the pooled memory of the astral light and attract from it those ideas and thoughts with which we resonate most strongly. The astral light may be considered to be the astral body of the earth, and plays a role similar to what Sheldrake calls the morphic field of Gaia.
Sheldrake admits that his terminology of morphic fields could be replaced by occult terms such as akasha and subtle bodies.9 However, occult philosophy goes much further than anything Sheldrake would care to admit to, especially as regards such teachings as reembodiment. Instead of a physical world organized by a nebulous nonmaterial realm of ‘fields’, theosophy proposes the existence of bodies within bodies and worlds within worlds, comprising a whole spectrum of energy-substances, the higher helping to animate and coordinate the lower. These ideas account for the regularity and harmony of nature, the powers of mind and consciousness, and paranormal phenomena.
Whatever the limitations of his ideas, however, Sheldrake has dealt a significant blow to materialistic science with his forceful arguments exposing the inadequacy of physical factors alone to account for the phenomena of life, mind, and evolution, and in support of the idea that memory is innate in nature.
- R. Sheldrake, A New Science of Life, Paladin, 1987, p. 14.
- R. Sheldrake, The Rebirth of Nature, Bantam Books, 1991, p. 107.
- A New Science of Life, p. 245.
- The Presence of the Past, Vintage, 1989, p. 120.
- A New Science of Life, p. 27.
- The Rebirth of Nature, p. 116.
- The Presence of the Past, p. 112.
- Ibid., p. 213.
- Ibid., p. 307.
Part 2: Creativity and the Habits of Nature
The operations of nature are characterized by order and harmony. For instance, the planets move in regular orbits around the sun; water always boils at 100°C at sea level; apple seeds always grow into apple trees rather than some other kind of tree; and electrons always carry the same electric charge. In a world where regularity and order did not prevail, everything would be completely unpredictable and life as we know it could not exist.
These regularities are generally attributed to laws of nature, which are considered to be eternal and transcendent, and to have existed in some sense before the birth of the physical universe. According to Christian theology, these laws were designed by God and exist in his mind. Although materialist science rejects the idea of God, it still accepts the existence of immutable laws. How these laws can exist independent of the evolving universe and at the same time act upon it is something of a mystery. As Rupert Sheldrake says:
They govern matter and motion, but they are not themselves material nor do they move. ... Indeed, even in the absence of God, they still share many of his traditional attributes. They are omnipresent, immutable, universal, and self-subsistent. Nothing can be hidden from them, nor lie beyond their power.1
A variation on the theme of nonmaterial laws is that rather than being eternal, new laws come into being as nature evolves and thereafter apply universally. In other words, the creation of the first atom, sun, crystal, protein, etc., involved the spontaneous appearance of the relevant laws and rules.
A very different point of view is that the regularities of nature are more like universal habits which have grown up within the evolving universe and that a kind of memory is inherent in nature. According to Sheldrake’s hypothesis of formative causation, the physical world is organized and coordinated by morphic fields, which contain a built-in memory, and past patterns of activity influence those in the present by morphic resonance.
Sheldrake states that morphic fields are neither a form of matter nor of energy. But it is strange that he rejects the idea that nonmaterial laws could act upon the material world, but then proposes that nonmaterial morphic fields in some way can. If morphic fields are anything, they must surely be a nonphysical, more ethereal form of energy-substance, a possibility which Sheldrake does not altogether rule out (see Part 1).
Theosophy, too, dismisses the idea that nonmaterial, free-floating laws, beyond time and space, matter and energy, could not have any influence on the physical world. It would also agree with Sheldrake that the laws of nature are habits, but goes further in saying that these habits are the habits of living entities. As G. de Purucker says: ‘This word law is simply an abstraction, an expression for the action of entities in nature.’2 Within and behind the material world there are worlds or planes composed of finer grades of matter, all inhabited by appropriate entities at varying stages of evolutionary development. The higher entities collectively make up the ‘mind’ of nature, which works through elemental nature-forces.
Strictly speaking, there are no mechanically acting laws of nature, for there are no lawgivers. The spiritual entities on higher planes do not govern the lower worlds – this is a relic of the theological idea of divine intervention. Just as bodily processes such as digestion, the beating of the heart, respiration, and growth are normally regulated by our automatic will, so the physical world is the body of higher worlds and the regularities of nature are the instinctual effects on this plane of the wills and energies of the entities dwelling on inner planes.
The habits of most kinds of physical, chemical, and biological systems have been established for millions, even billions of years. Hence most of the systems that physicists, chemists, and biologists study are running in such deep grooves of habit that they are effectively changeless. The systems behave as if they were governed by eternal laws because the habits are so well established.3
This could also apply to the effectively invariable mathematical principles governing the structure of the hierarchies of worlds and planes, visible and invisible, composing universal nature. Ten, for instance, was regarded as the ‘perfect number’ underlying the structure of the universe by many ancient philosophers, including Pythagoras. A hierarchy of worlds may be said to consist of ten planes or spheres, each divisible into ten subplanes. All these planes interpenetrate, but because they are composed of energy-substances vibrating at different rates, only the lowest, physical plane can be perceived by our physical senses.
How have galaxies, stars, planets, and the incredible diversity of life-forms that we find on earth managed to evolve? Sheldrake suggests three different ways of viewing the creativity of nature. It could be ascribed (a) to blind and purposeless chance, (b) to a creative agency pervading and transcending nature, or (c) to a creative impetus immanent in nature. He says that a decision between these alternatives can be made only on metaphysical grounds and on the basis of intuition.
From a theosophical viewpoint, the first hypothesis is unacceptable since chance does not play any role in nature; chance is merely a word that conceals our ignorance. As physicist D. Bohm and science writer F.D. Peat remark: ‘What is randomness in one context may reveal itself as simple orders of necessity in another broader context.’4
According to the second hypothesis, creativity descends into the physical world of space and time from a higher, transcendent level that is mindlike. While theosophy accepts that there are superior, causal, mindlike planes behind the physical world, it questions Sheldrake’s assumption that such realms would have to be completely changeless and ‘beyond time altogether’.5 All the planes interact and evolve, though the higher planes are relatively more enduring than the lower.
The third hypothesis states that creativity
depends on chance, conflict, and necessity . . . [I]t is rooted in the ongoing processes of nature. But at the same time it occurs within the framework of higher systems of order. For example, new species arise within ecosystems; new ecosystems within Gaia; Gaia within the solar system; the solar system within the galaxy; the galaxy within the growing cosmos.6
Again, while blind chance has no part to play in the theosophic scheme, creativity is rooted in the processes of nature, and is closely associated with ‘higher systems of order’, which would include higher planes and subplanes. In fact, the creative agency – or rather agencies – referred to in hypothesis (b) dwell in these higher spheres and are the source of the creative impetus referred to in hypothesis (c).
Sheldrake does not recognize the existence of superior, causal worlds, though he does recognize the existence of a nonmaterial realm of morphic fields of various types. But what exactly is the relationship between this realm and the physical world? A new morphic field is said to come into being with the first appearance of a new system, whether it be a molecule, galaxy, crystal, or plant. These new patterns of organization arise through a spontaneous, creative jump and thereafter guide the development of subsequent similar systems and become increasingly habitual through repetition. However,
at every level of organization, new morphic fields may arise within and from higher-level fields. Creativity occurs not just upward from the bottom, with new forms arising from less complex systems by spontaneous jumps; it also proceeds downward from the top, through the creative activity of higher-level fields.7
Sheldrake suggests that all morphic fields may ultimately be derived from the primal field of the universe, and considers the possibility that this universal field could be connected with previous universes.
Fields play a fundamental role in modern science: matter is said to consist of energy organized by fields. ‘Fields,’ says Sheldrake, ‘have replaced souls as invisible organizing principles’.8 He even goes so far as to liken the universal field of gravity to the Neoplatonic conception of the world soul. Although clearly an exaggeration, since the world soul is something far higher and more spiritual than the fields known to physics, the behavioral and mental morphic fields postulated by Sheldrake may be regarded as higher-level fields and bear some resemblance to what in theosophic thought are called the animal soul and human soul. Virtually all religious and mystical traditions teach that our physical body is merely the lowest level of our constitution, and that there is a higher part of us that survives physical death. Although Sheldrake does not explicitly consider the possibility of survival and reincarnation, there is nothing in his theory that rules them out.
Interestingly, he argues that morphic fields never completely vanish when the species or entity they organize dies:
When any particular organized system ceases to exist, as when an atom splits, a snowflake melts, an animal dies, its organizing field disappears from that place. But in another sense, morphic fields do not disappear: they are potential organizing patterns of influence, and can appear again physically in other times and places, wherever and whenever the physical conditions are appropriate. When they do so they contain within themselves a memory of their previous physical existences.9
This would explain how the characteristics of ancestral species, even those extinct for millions of years, can suddenly reappear, a phenomenon known as reversion, atavism, or throwing back. There are also many examples from the fossil record that suggest that particular evolutionary pathways are repeated: organisms with features almost identical to previous species appear again and again. Taking this idea a step further, is it not conceivable that the same individualized higher-level ‘fields’ could manifest repeatedly in physical form and provide a thread of continuity between one life or embodiment and the next?
Theosophy proposes that all entities – atoms, animals, humans, planets, suns, and universes – reembody, i.e., pass through cyclic periods of activity and rest, manifestation and dissolution. They are all informed by spiritual monads which use the different forms offered by the various kingdoms of nature to gain evolutionary experience. Evolution is without conceivable beginning and without conceivable end. Everything exists because it has existed before, and no development or achievement is ever lost but remains imprinted on the astral light or akasha, which acts as a sort of memory of nature. As H.P. Blavatsky puts it: ‘the spiritual prototypes of all things exist in the immaterial world before those things become materialised on Earth.’
Everything that is, was, and will be, eternally IS, even the countless forms, which are finite and perishable only in their objective, not in their ideal Form. They existed as Ideas, in the Eternity, and, when they pass away, will exist as reflections. Neither the form of man, nor that of any animal, plant or stone has ever been created, and it is only on this plane of ours that it commenced ‘becoming,’ i.e., objectivising into its present materiality, or expanding from within outwards, from the most sublimated and supersensuous essence into its grossest appearance. Therefore our human forms have existed in the Eternity as astral or ethereal prototypes . . .10
In other words, when the cycle of evolution on a particular planet comes to an end, all evolutionary forms and pathways remain imprinted as ‘reflections’ on the higher planes. When the next period of activity dawns, these memories or seeds of life will be reawakened and reactivated, and provide the prototypes and blueprint for the new cycle of evolution. All things are therefore constantly building on the achievements of the past; we follow in the footsteps of what has gone before.
There was never a time when nothing was. Our brain-minds tend to find this idea rather daunting and prefer to impose at least an absolute beginning before which nothing existed and at which moment the universe came into being out of nothing. But the idea of something being created out of literal nothingness is an illogical fantasy: ‘the Occult teaching says, “Nothing is created, but is only transformed. Nothing can manifest itself in this universe – from a globe down to a vague, rapid thought – that was not in the universe already ...”’11 However, the existence of evolutionary plans and prototypes by no means implies that everything is rigidly predetermined, for although the higher levels of reality help to coordinate the lower, the lower levels retain a degree of autonomy and creative freedom, and the plan itself is modified by each cycle of evolution.
On the subject of God, Sheldrake writes:
a view of nature without God must include a creative unitary principle that includes the entire cosmos and unites the polarities and dualities found throughout the natural realm. But this is not far removed from views of nature with God.12
He points out that instead of the theistic notion that God is remote and separate from nature, God could also be considered as immanent in nature, and yet at the same time as the unity that transcends nature. He quotes fifteenth-century mystic Nicholas of Cusa: ‘Divinity is the enfolding and unfolding of everything that is. Divinity is in all things in such a way that all things are in divinity.’ St. Paul put forward a similar pantheistic idea, saying that Deity is that in which ‘we live, and move, and have our being’ (Acts 17:28).
The divine can certainly not be anything less than our grandest conception, and must therefore be infinitude itself. But if divinity is infinite, it cannot be outside nature, for otherwise there would be no room left for the universe! Divinity is the universe – not just the physical universe but all the endless hierarchies of worlds and planes which infill and in fact compose the boundless All. Divinity is therefore immanent, omnipresent, and the root of all things. Since it is greater than any of its individual expressions, it may also be regarded as transcendent. Theosophy is therefore pantheistic in that it recognizes a universal life infilling and inspiriting everything without exception, containing everything, contained in all. Sheldrake calls this panentheism, since he defines pantheism as the view that divinity is immanent in all things, but not transcendent. But this is a rather arbitrary definition.
Infinitude is composed of an infinite number of world-systems, and within any particular hierarchy of worlds all the entities that have passed beyond the human stage may be termed spiritual beings or gods, meaning beings who are relatively perfected in relation to ourselves. And the aggregate of the most advanced beings in any system of worlds may be regarded as divinity for that hierarchy. But this is not God in the traditional sense, for there is no god so high that there is none higher.
Everything in our hierarchy of worlds derives from the same divine source and is destined in the fullness of time to return to it, there to rest for untold aeons before issuing forth again on an evolutionary pilgrimage as part of even higher worlds. Evolution is a fundamental habit of nature and proceeds in cyclic periods of activity and rest, in a never-ending, ever-ascending spiral of progress in which there are always new and vaster fields of experience in which to become selfconscious masters of life.
- R. Sheldrake, The Presence of the Past, Vintage, 1989, p. 12.
- G. de Purucker, Fundamentals of the Esoteric Philosophy, TUP, 2nd ed., 1979, p. 173.
- R. Sheldrake, The Rebirth of Nature, Bantam Books, 1991, pp. 128-9.
- D. Bohm and F.D. Peat, Science, Order & Creativity, Routledge, 1989, p. 133.
- The Rebirth of Nature, p. 194.
- Ibid., p. 195.
- Ibid., p. 83.
- The Presence of the Past, pp. xviii - xix.
- H.P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, TUP, 1977 (1888), 1:58, 282.
- Ibid., 1:570.
- The Rebirth of Nature, p. 196.
November 1997. Original articles published in Sunrise, June/July & Aug/Sept 1992.