Tracing our history back to pre-agrarian culture, humanity was a people living in and with nature. We existed in small tribal and shamanic communities taking only the necessities of life, rather than whatever we wanted. Those archaic cultures did not have to seek equilibrium with the environment because they were already naturally harmonious. They perceived nature in all of its glory, as an extension of themselves, instead of our modern approach to nature as a separate and tyrannical lord. Material acquisitions were of no importance, as the welfare of the individual and the community were the main priorities.
This is not to say that these cultures were above individual and collective folly, but the stark difference to our modern civilization is that their faults were generally addressed with an attempt to heal any problem through a consensus of opinion in a communal setting. An individual’s problem was the community’s problem and vice versa. The welfare of one was the welfare of all. In such a model, there is no individual above the others who decides what is good for the people. Even the rise of the shaman and holy person did not threaten this communal importance within tribal cultures. The shaman and holy person, though, is respected as the one who has done the internal work to possess the innate wisdom that heals others’ physical and psychological ailments. This is not to say that a shaman or a holy person necessarily held a position of authority over the community. On the contrary, in most cases the shaman and holy person was a hunter and gatherer just like anyone else, but differed in having a keen interest in medicine and healing, in much the same way that certain women of the community had a keen interest in arts and crafts.
In this statement we are not suggesting that only men were shamans or holy people and that only women were interested in arts and crafts; that would be a common mistaken assumption. Within many tribal communities in ancient times the shaman and holy person, either female or male, held a place of equal importance to other members of the tribe, which is hard for us to fathom in our current era from a state of consciousness that tends to perceive reality in the mold of layers and levels of hierarchy.
There were tribes in ancient times that did kill and shun shamans or holy people as outsiders. But in many cases tribal communities were based on the natural philosophy of mutuality as opposed to the modern view of individuality because individuality had not blossomed as it has in our current era. Tribal cultures are traditionally a partnership society based on mutuality and anyone in those ancient times who sought individual salvation from the group ran the risk of nature’s wrath. Those who were not mutually in sync with the other people of the tribe were viewed to disturb its harmony. Individuality, then, in those times was about how one benefited the group. Everybody had their place within the community by following what their natural God-given talents were. No one had to be assigned duties, as there was no one in the role of a dictator in the community assigning duties to others.
In the Taoist philosophy of China, each and every individual has his or her own unique psychosomatic pattern that they express either physically or psychologically, which ultimately brings harmony to the world. In Chinese this unique organic pattern is known as li (理), and by following your li you naturally harmonize with the universal essence and order, Tao (道), which brings harmonic resonance into the world of form, known as ying (應) in Chinese. The ancient Taoist sages understood the natural tribal values brought down from living with nature and then into agrarian society. Invariably our li, in other words, our intrinsic human nature, is linked to art, because art in its purest form is the self-expression of one’s organic pattern. Because of this, the artistic path calls to the artist, and is not the result of personal desires and perceived pleasures.
Pursuing your personal desires and pleasures within the apparently secure confines of your own physical and psychological comfort zones is no way to discover your organic pattern or freedom. This vain pursuit actually has more in common with a prison than anything else. That calling which naturally dawns upon our mind is the path of the hero, if we choose not to be distracted by what our egotistical mind is attracted to, because the ego is invariably associated to the hypnosis of laziness and procrastination. Mythologist and philosopher Joseph Campbell beautifully called following this calling “the Hero’s Journey.” He adeptly explained that if you discover your li and follow it—“following your bliss” in Campbell’s terminology—then you not only continually grow along the path of life, but you also change the world through your self-expression as it harmonizes with everything in reality, that is, ying. For example, artists often have the ying ability to bring people together, move them emotionally, and inspire others. Ironically, though, a lot of people strive to become an artist for fame or to appease their own intellectual pursuits and in both cases they usually fall short of the mark. On the other hand, successful artists in a lot of cases never intended to be famous and weren’t originally passionate about their craft, but from following the intuitive calling of li along the hero’s journey they continue to grow and become extremely passionate without any intention to do so at the outset.
Establishing harmony between the individual and the community was common etiquette among many ancient natural tribal cultures. The community was an extension of the individual and so the individual is the community. The inner life of the individual becomes the culture. The microcosm and macrocosm are both one and the same. This view is shared in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) where the small picture and the big picture are the same picture, which means the world is a reflection of what is happening in the inner life of the individual. The knowledge attained from this way of life is that if you want to change the community you have to change yourself, as the community is the result of many individuals. This is still the way life is now, and it can never deviate from this course because any community, no matter how large or small, is always the outcome of the individual. But something in those ancient times compelled those small tribes to grow and merge into larger communities with ultimately larger problems. We deviated from the natural course of following our natural talents, and as a result were thrust into assigned duties. As larger communities continued to grow, the necessities for living became increasingly scarce as a result. Commonplace aspects of tribal life had to be changed or cast aside.
The greatest change of those times was when our way of life went from living harmoniously with nature to the formation of agrarian cultures. This was the beginning of individuals giving their innate power over to a society that molded them into conforming with what it needs to function. Agrarian culture is more mechanical than humanistic, so for such a society to operate sufficiently its components—the people— need to be assigned specific duties to maintain the cultural framework.
Pursuing one’s natural creative calling, which eventually brought harmony to the community, became a distant memory as the people suppressed such desires in favor of money attained for their labor, which supplied them the means to purchase food, clothing, and shelter. These means, which were once our natural right, became a commodity run by the society. Because of that, we as individuals lost our sense of responsibility, because the society and culture took over our responsibility in the role of a parental figure. A lack of responsibility leads to passive conformity—and not the receptiveness of humility, but instead a docile passivity more like that of a zombie than anything else. Instead of a society and culture acting in accord with the individual mind, the individual begins to take on the functions of the society and culture, resulting in the average human being living their everyday life as mere machines. We take on the machinelike operations of the society and culture in all aspects of our life. In the modern era, many people are not conscious of this machinelike behavior because it has become so ingrained into the psyche that they never question its authenticity.
Since the beginning of agrarian cultures these machinelike habits and tendencies of the individual took over our natural self-expression. Instead of communal values based on individual artistic satisfaction, we took on an assigned and a somewhat slavery orientated division of labor and a division of function within the society to keep the social engine running like a well-oiled machine.
In our mechanical model of a linear world, the external order begins to dictate a way of life to the individual, which is in reality artificial. A conformist society begins when we relinquish our power away to a machine that is unnatural and devoid of life. This passive conformity can be traced back to the origins of the Hindu caste system and medieval western Christian society under the feudal system.
When a settled agrarian culture is born, such as the ancient Hindu and Christian societies, they tend to build a township not only to protect people from outside influences, but also to develop a mental framework based on rules and regulations that one should abide by. A division of labor and division of function is the result of the complexity of an agrarian culture. From this division, the ancient Hindus of the Vedic civilization developed a caste system to assign the labor and function of society. The Hindu caste is made up of the Brahmins (priesthood), Kshatriyas (nobility), Vaishya (merchants and farmers), and the Shudras (laborers). A direct reflection of this caste system is that of the medieval Christian society under the feudal system, where we have the priesthood of the church, feudal lords and royalty of nobility, farmers and merchants of the commons, and the serfs who were the slaves. This pattern is still with us today, as when we are born into this world we come out of nature and are taught to submit to a caste and rule of society and culture.
This is the crucifixion of the individual and the sacrifice we all suffer. According to the tyranny of the machine, this crucifixion is for the “common good.” But there is a stark difference between the Hindu and Christian societies of ancient times, and that difference is that once a Hindu has fulfilled their duties for society in this life, they are allowed to break away from caste and become a sage in the forest, which is loathed by Christian society as one is thought of as useless if they do not contribute to the social order. This break away from caste is viewed as a return back to nature and could be thought of as a resurrection. A sage is not moved by the social mind and its motives and so they do not conform to its rule. Jesus was a sage in this mold, and is why he was not thought of as a particularly good member of society and he was actually put to death by such a deluded conformist society. Those who submit lose their natural innocence.
Our submission to rule annihilates the freedom that is innately ours. In such a structure of submission, enlightenment is something one can only ponder in the hope of experiencing it in later life according to the Hindu caste system. But as we see in modern-day India, the life of a vanaprastha (Sanskrit for an individual living in the forest as a hermit after giving up material desires) is seldom taken on because its appeal has been diminished by our society and culture, which suppress individual spiritual liberation. From the inception of agrarian culture until now, the society and culture dictate life toward the individual. We develop a subtle psychosis from trying to tiptoe our whole life within the prisonlike confines of the rules and regulations that keep the machine ticking.
This form of social and cultural suppression, as we see with the ancient Hindu caste system, evolved from groups of people attaining positions of power, such as the Brahmins (priesthood) and Kshatriyas (nobility). It would be hard for us to speculate how this all occurred. But our world now is the outgrowth of that original conception. From the beginnings of this hierarchy the average individual is made to feel subordinate to the higher classes. And so we develop this view that life is governed from above. This view is in stark contrast to how life was within pre-agrarian tribal communities, because they were part of a group consensus who all belonged to nature. The governing-from-above view of life infiltrated all aspects of society, culture, and religion. All the way from the highest ranks to the lowest, people have this idea of a governing system of control from above.
Religions were quick to adopt this system of authority. Our spirituality coming out of the natural world was molded into a tool of indoctrinated belief to rule the population. According to Sigmund Freud, the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten, known as Amenhotep IV before the fifth year of his reign, who Freud suggests is the pioneer of a monotheistic religion that Moses was probably a follower of, spawned the concept that the universe is governed from above. As a result of this common belief, the universe took on the role as a governor and lawgiver from above. The ancient Persians had a tradition of “king of kings,” which came from Darius I (550–486 BCE). This tradition is based on a kingly God lording over the world, which is the essence of a political analogy of the universe that many kings throughout history employed to maintain control of the masses. During that time, the idea of a king of kings was a foreign way of looking at the universe, and was diametrically opposed to the thought of China, Greece, India, and the great philosophers of those civilizations of that time, most notably Lao-tzu, Pythagoras, Gautama the Buddha, and Confucius. It does not matter whether we were living in Egypt, Babylon, Chaldea, India, or anywhere else, because the king of kings tradition became a social norm that one should adhere to. As a result of this belief, we began to think of God as a king, along with the idea that “he” punishes us for our sins. The irony here is that what we perceive as sins are only judged as such according to what is not accepted for the beneficial upkeep of the society, culture, and religion.
If God is all-loving, why would she/he/it punish its children or cause them any harm intentionally? We are again giving away our sense of responsibility here, because we expect God to punish us for our sins, rather than admitting that we are punished by our sins. This differs vastly from Eastern wisdom. In the East we discover the law of karma, which is based on the obvious phenomena of actions and their processes of cause and effect. The major difference is that according to the principle of karma there is no good or bad, as these are personal judgments that differ among individuals. But instead karma aligns with the age-old phrase “you reap what you sow.” This also corresponds to the sixth principle in Hermeticism:
VI. THE PRINCIPLE OF CAUSE AND EFFECT
Every Cause has its Effect; every Effect has its Cause;
everything happens according to Law; Chance is but a
name for Law not recognized; there are many planes
of causation, but nothing escapes the Law.1
Law in Hermetic terminology is not to be thought of as a governing apparatus in the sense of a law giver from above. But rather it is a natural flux of the universe and consciousness that keeps reality harmonious, which is actually in alignment with the Chinese Tao and Sanskrit Brahman. Inquiring into this, we discover that the monarchical view of reality has developed far more in Western religions than those of the East. For example, in the West we think of God as a “creator” of the universe in the kingly sense, as how one would govern from above. Yet in the East there is still a relationship to nature, because in most spiritual paths of the East they view the universe as an organism that grows without any aspect of monarchy, as monarchy is a human concept. A child in Europe, for instance, may ask her mother, “How was I made?” but in China a child may ask her mother, “How did I grow?”
The fundamental differences between the Eastern and Western views of the universe can be attributed to the Book of Genesis. According to Genesis the universe is “made” in the same way that a carpenter builds a house. The world is an artifact from the hands of an all-governing creator God. Remember how we are all taught that Jesus was the son of a carpenter, which is actually an allegory, because Jesus was also the son of God (creator or carpenter). This model of the universe is what British philosopher Alan Watts called “the ceramic model of the universe.”
Christianity and its thousands of sects are based heavily on the principle of God as creator of the universe. This is why most Christians think of God or Jesus as a king. In The Book of Common Prayer it states:
O Lord our heavenly Father, high and mighty, King
of kings, Lord of lords, the only Ruler of princes, who
dost from thy throne behold all the dwellers upon
The effect of kingly worship leads people to relate to the world as if they were subjects under a king. The church is based on this monarchical theory with the Pope on his throne and also in how the leader of the congregation can come across as a tyrant wielding the fear of God rather than as a holy man. A great Catholic cathedral, for instance, is known as a basilica, a Latin word that derives from the Greek basileios stoa, meaning both a “Royal Stoa” (ancient Greek architecture) and a tribunal chamber for a king. So a basilica is a house fit for a king, such as the Pope, for example. On top of this, the ritual of the Catholic Church is based on the court rituals of Byzantium.
In direct relation to this kingly place of worship, the Protestant Church is built on the same principle as a judicial courthouse. Both Catholic and Protestant architectural structures are built on a monarchical and political view of the universe. All of this disassociates the individual from the church and ultimately from God. The monarchical view of the universe suggests that there is a difference between the maker and made, creator and created, and so on. As we have stated, this model originated from cultures whose governments were monarchical.
This assumption of a difference between maker and made is upheld by the established authority of our time, whether that be religion, nation, government, corporate, banking or commerce. To define and promote the apparent difference between creator and created benefits such institutions because people erroneously believe the status quo, which tells them they are only an effect rather than a cause. This perception results from the concept that we are made in the same way that a carpenter builds a house with his hands, meaning anything that is created by work performed from the outside inward, as a sculptor carves wood. Again, this is vastly different from the perception of the original tribal cultures, and also the wisdom of the East, because there the universe is perceived as an organism that grows. So when we watch anything that grows in nature it manifests from the inside out, as a flower blossoms and expands from a simple humble bud.
We do not necessarily need to debate about this natural growth fact, because this is the way things are in nature. All organisms are in accord with this natural growth pattern from the inside out. Yet the human mind has been conditioned into the opposite perspective of the monarchical view of reality since the dawn of agrarian culture. As a result, control and force have been substituted for organic growth. Even within our human body we feel the effects of this monarchical view.
1. Three Initiates, Kybalion, 38.
2. Society of Archbishop Justus, The Book of Common Prayer,
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