God as Number

God as number. Perhaps a curious starting point for you, because can God really be compared to a numerical value?

God as Number

And if we still want to make this comparison, the question immediately arises: With which number can God be indicated?

These questions are of course not new. From the very beginning, man has dealt with the problems of the divine and has sought answers to such questions. Gnosis, which gives us the divine, universal wisdom, has managed to give one and the same answer to these problems throughout all ages. Despite cultural and time differences, many texts, originally inspired by this divine wisdom, give evidence of this universal knowledge and try to give shape to these philosophical questions in their own words.

The first is an example from the Chinese gnosis. The concept of God is called “Dao” in the writings of the Daodejing of Lao Zi. Lao Zi states that while Dao is the primordial ground of all things, the Dao cannot be fully described by any mortal, for thus he says:

Could Dao be spoken, it would not be the eternal Dao. Could the name be named, it would not be the eternal name. As not-being, it can he described as the foundation of all that exists. As being, it is the Mother of all things. [1]

These paradoxical words are completely in line with the medieval mystics who testified to what they experienced of the divine through mere denials. This science is also called the “negative theology” and parallels what Lao Zi has to say to us. The chief exponent of this “negative theology” is Dionysius the Areopagite, who in one of his treatises first describes the divine by many different names, only to later deny it all. Dionysius also assumes that God cannot be captured in a concept and therefore says that:

God is neither darkness nor light. He is the dazzling darkness that overshadows all radiance with the intensity of its darkness. [2]

These enigmatic words of the medieval mystic indicate that the divine cannot be captured in words in any way. The divine world appears to be completely separate from the world of forms in which we live. And yet man, consciously or unconsciously, is drawn to that supernatural in which he evidently has no part, and has a need to know that nature. With this need he is confronted with the question: how can we describe or experience the divine?

So Dao cannot be named, because:

Dao is empty, and in its radiations and activities, it is inexhaustible. [3]

To get to know and really experience the divine, we have to ’empty’ ourselves, we have to merge into a completely different state of consciousness. Lao Zi expresses this in the following way:

Therefore, if the heart constantly ‘is not’ — that is, if it is free of all earthly aspirations and desires — one can behold the mystery of Dao’s spiritual essence.

If the heart constantly ‘is’ — that is, if it is full of desires and earthly aspirations — one can only behold limited, finite forms. [4]

That is why the sage engages in not-doing; he carries out the teachings without words [5]

The seeker of God, of Dao, is advised to detach himself completely from all material things; to empty himself completely in this way, so that the Dao can then reveal itself to him. However, as soon as one tries to grasp or comprehend this divine with the mind, Dao again departs from the side of the seeker.

So apparently we should not get attached to this divine experience either, because precisely because people don’t get attached to it, Dao does not leave them. This refers to the fact that the nature of the eternal Dao cannot be mixed with the temporal nature of our world, for it departs from our side when we try to seize it.

Jewish Theosophy also shows us, as a general feature of Gnosis, that the divine is separate from the sensory world. The Jewish gnosis, like the world of ideas of Lao Zi and Dionysius the Areopagite, therefore also shows a duality: here too, the divine is a contrast to the material world and cannot be experienced in any way in the physical world. Hence, in Jewish mysticism, the divine is described as the unknowable Ain Sof, literally meaning “without end.” This spiritual non-existence of the Ain Sof is the source from which all life has sprung. In Jewish mysticism, this life is represented schematically by the ten Sephiroth of the Tree of Life, which form a blueprint of creation. In other words, we can understand the divine Ain Sof as the number 0, a nothingness from which everything originated. Goethe also spoke in his book Faust:

In your Nothingness I trust to find it all.

Bearing in mind the foregoing, we can conclude that any concept to describe the divine must fall short. In order to be able to imagine the “divine nothingness”, the Dao or the Ain Sof, we have to resort to the language of images. This visual language should then have the same meaning for everyone. Numbers occupy a unique place in the world of symbolism, which is why we opt for this visual language.

When we start from a certain number, we must realize that the numbers have not been experienced in the same way throughout all times. This may sound strange, because you may think that the sum of 1 plus 1 will give an equal result for everyone and in every time. Of course, this is true. In this way, however, we are only using the quantitative concept of a number, but in addition to the quantitative value, we can also experience the number as a quality.

In our time, the qualitative concept of a number has been pushed into the background. That hasn’t always been the case. In earlier cultures, the ancient seers experienced through revelations what modern scientists confirm by formulas. Where modern man sees mere things, the ancient mathematical philosopher saw processes which he could convert into numbers, thus revealing to him the mysteries of life. The sage of the distant past, as we now see in nature, saw in the numerical structures the hand of God.

Therefore, for Pythagoras, the Greek mathematician of the sixth century BC, mathematics was the spiritual foundation of the All. For him, everything that exists in space could be traced back to numerical proportions. Pythagoras also assumed two worlds: spiritual and material nature, in which spirit rules over that of matter. To him, matter was only frozen, crystallized spirit, which must be slowly dissolved, liberated by a change in human consciousness.

The number 10 was important to the Pythagoreans. They calculated this number in the following way: 1+2+3+4=10 and, to visualize the whole, placed these numbers as dots in a triangle. The one point at the top of the triangle’s apex, two points below that, three points below that, and finally at the base of the triangle, the last four points.

With the numbers 1 to 4 they could fathom the All in its entirety. The whole development of creation, according to this view, proceeds from the 1, over the 2, and the 3 to the 4, which in their entirety form the fullness of the ten. We have already touched on this creative fullness with the ten Sephiroth of the Tree of Life, which represents the creation of the All. The ten Sephiroth relate to the ten words of creation of Genesis, which start with:

And God said… [6]

The world as we know it is a world of divisions, a world of contradictions. This in itself is a very important fact. We cannot imagine anything in the physical world that cannot have its opposite. This contrast, which actually conceals the number two, is beautifully depicted in the Jewish Pentateuch, which comprises the first five books of the Old Testament. The first letter of Genesis in the Hebrew text starts with the beth, the second letter of the alphabet with a numerical value of two.  So creation does not begin with the one, but immediately with the qualitative numerical value of the two! Actually, with this image in mind, we can conclude that the qualitative value of the number one is not available in our physical world. We live in the sublunary, in a world where the two or a multiple of the two reigns! Hence, to the Pythagoreans, the number four sufficed to designate the world of physical nature: for 4 is 2 squared, the utter limit of this nature! Unlike the 2 or the 4, the 1 stands, and this oneness is not of this nature, but evidently belongs to another order. Moreover, for example, the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet has a numerical value of 400 (the zeros are secondary), and anything above 400 does not belong to physical nature! There are no letters or signs for the 500; then we are back in the world of silence. The journey of man in matter is then over.

Now we may best imagine this unity as the monad, the spherical form, which, unlike other forms, consists of only 1 face. The Gnostics experience this single plane, this monad, as the silent force in the background, which is motionless and from which everything has sprung. Hence the ancient seers saw the monad, the unity, the one, not as a number, but as the generator of numbers, from which, like seeds, everything sprung.

The first manifestation from the divine world, which we can now associate with the number 1, is an activity, a radiation, an emanation of the Ain Sof.  It is like a beam of light, a divine call from another silent world that invites us to find It. This emanation from the unknowable Nothingness is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the Aleph, and it is like a droplet, a seed that wants to find a partner on earth. This divine droplet wants to be known and reflected purely in its monadic, unambiguous form. After all, Love is creation and creation is Love. God in his love makes an effort to be recognized and known here. He calls us from the divine Nothingness, and at that very moment Love begets its earthly counterpart: the two face each other.

The heavenly droplet can only be mirrored on earth through man’s agency: he must make the reflective mirror of his soul so clear that the divine in its purest form is reflected on earth through him as a divine unity.

When his soul is not bound by the earthly movements, the mirror of his soul is free from every blemish, and the divine light is reflected in its gleaming brightness. This is beautifully depicted by the first Hebrew letter Aleph, with a numerical value of 1:

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Alas, in most cases this divine droplet from the unknowable Ain Sof finds on earth a participant who can form only a faint shadow of the sublime divine unity. The mirror of the soul is still too dull due to an earthly focus and the light cannot penetrate to the very depths of the soul. Then the light from the supernatural unity in the physical world becomes a multiplicity of forms, a dualistic world in which the opposites reign. The monadic droplet then finds its reflection only in a broken state (see bottom droplet). The cessation of this broken state can only take place when the entire human system is brought to rest.

Lao Zi says in this regard:

Who can purify into peace the impurities of his heart?

 Who can be born gradually into Dao by the prolonged practice of calm?  [7]

The fragmentation of the divine unity, through the turmoil in the human soul, is a fact expressed in many myths. The Egyptian myth of Osiris and Isis is a clear example of this. It tells how Osiris, as a representative of man’s true self that stems from the divine world, focuses exclusively on the spiritual. However, he has a brother, Seth, the dark counterpart who focuses not on spirit but on matter. Seth, also called Typhon, represents man’s tendency to throw himself into the fulfillment of his desires. Both brothers could have been a balanced couple if Osiris had been in charge of his brother Seth. The spiritual would then have ruled over the sense world, which would have obeyed him. But the story goes differently. The Egyptian myth tells that Seth kills his brother and divides his body into pieces and scatters them all over the world. This image parallels the mighty, divine droplet, the monad projected into the material world in a broken form, disintegrating, as it were, into innumerable particles.

The globe or monad we have now come to know as the divine all-oneness rising above the fragmentation of dualistic nature. It is no coincidence that in the Hebrew language the terms “God,” “Love,” and “Unity” have one and the same numerical value. These concepts belong together irrefutably, because: God is Love is One. Actually, we can add a fourth concept: truth. In our world, the meaning of the concept of ‘truth’ is different for everyone. However, starting from a working hypothesis and taking the monad as a symbol for the Dao, we can conclude by means of a simple example that the divine oneness is equally experienced by all. To prove this, we must appeal to your imagination. Imagine: we are all together in an immense sphere, the monad. Everyone, wherever he or she stands, will have the same perception of that globe! Even if we place ourselves outside that immense, large sphere: everyone will have the same observation! Therefore the monad, the single plane of the spherical form, the number 1, is the symbol par excellence of the Deity expressing in our world, as the first emanation.

This single plane, the number 1, is diametrically opposite to the number 4 of physical nature. For the Pythagoreans too, the 1 formed the boundary to the transcendental world that cannot be experienced in the material world of the 4. Although these two different natures cannot be mixed together, the mistake is often made that the divine must be very far removed from us humans. However: nothing could be further from the truth! It is nearer than hands and feet, only it is still latent in us! It has yet to be activated.

The riddle of this seeming paradox can only be solved by making our soul mirror so clear that it is able to receive and reflect the divine in its true essence. How do we make our souls receptive to this divine inspiration that comes from the other nature? To achieve this, Lao Zi refers to the Wu-Wei principle, which means ‘not doing’, detachment from this world. That is the key held by all Gnostic magicians, which leads us out of the world of “doing,” being, into the world of non-doing, non-being. When a human being is able to use this key, then through such an act all of human nature is reworked and lifted into another dimension. Then the gnostic-magical words of Lao Zi, who speaks to us in an inspiring way from a distant past, are confirmed:

Heaven and earth would unite and cause a gentle dew to fall,

and the people would enter harmony spontaneously, without needing to be told.

When Dao was apportioned, it was given a name.

With that name, one has to know how to contain oneself.

He who can contain himself will not enter into danger.

Dao will be spread throughout the All.

All things will return to Dao, like mountain streams, which return to the rivers and then to the sea. [8]

 

References:

[1] Catharose de Petri and Jan van Rijckenborgh, The Chinese Gnosis – A commentary on the Tao Te Ching, chapter 1, Rozekruis Pers, Haarlem 2018

[2] The Mystical Theology of PSEUDO-DIONYSIUS THE AREOPAGITE

[3] Ibid, chapter 4

[4] Ibid, chapter 1

[5] Ibid, chapter 2

[6] Genesis 1:3

[7] Ibid, chapter 15

[8] Ibid, chapter 32

 

 

 

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Date: May 23, 2023
Author: Benita Kleiberg (Netherlands)
Photo: Lucas Kapla on unsplash CCO

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