Contingency, Desire & the Quest for God

Contingency, Desire & the Quest for God May 18, 2022

If you could be eternally happy, healthy, and at peace, would you desire to do so? Ninety-nine percent of the time people will reflect and answer with a yes. It is indeed a natural universal desire for everlasting peace and happiness, both on an individual level and the level of human society. This is a good desire. However, we often take good desires, couple them with bad thinking and bad actions, and find ourselves growing more distant from spiritual life than ever. What is necessary first step is to gain a knowledge of our desires and what they are intended to point us to. Our natural universal desires, such as hunger, thirst, knowledge, etc. are all capable of being fulfilled. It stands to reason that the desire for eternal happiness and peace should also be capable of satisfaction, otherwise it should never have occurred to humanity in the universal sense that it does. It wouldn’t even be an idea.

Thomas Aquinas, writing on this, appeals to an Aristotelian principle:

“It is impossible for natural desire to be unfulfilled, since nature does nothing in vain. Now, natural desire would be in vain if it could never be fulfilled. Therefore, man’s natural desire is capable of fulfillment, but not in this life…So, it must be fulfilled after this life. Therefore, man’s ultimate felicity comes after this life.”

Paramahansa Yogananda, writing of the frustration that arises from the attempts to fulfill this desire with material things states:

“Every material desire leads man farther away from bliss, delaying his task of finding the way back to his native state of absolute peace.”

If we put this principle in a syllogism it would look like this:

  • Natural desires are such that they are not in vain and have an object capable of fulfilling them.

  • We experience immaterial desires.

  • Therefore, there is something transcendent to matter that can fulfill immaterial desires.

We can also put it this way:

  • Every natural, innate desire in us corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire.

  • But there exists in us a desire which nothing in time, nothing on earth, no creature can satisfy.

  • Therefore, there must exist something more than time, earth, and creatures, which can satisfy the desire. 

It is logical and reasonable to conclude that, since we experience a deep yearning for something that is immaterial, this desire can be fulfilled. It isn’t fulfilled by material objects. Our physical senses can never satisfy this inner yearning but must be satisfied and quieted by a transcendental relationship with the Divine. Buddhism, too, teaches this principle of the inability of material objects to fulfill our inner desire.

Lobha

The Buddha’s “Three Poisons” includes lobha, which is often translated greed, but really carries the meaning of an attraction to something that we falsely think will gratify the senses, coincides perfectly with this perennial truth. Suffice it to say our natural desire for that elusive “something”, which is never satisfied, but only briefly distracted by the illusions of material objects, does indeed point to the necessity for something beyond this material world.  That something is what we call God. The first discipline of the spiritual adept is to control the senses, knowing that the never-ending hungers experienced internally are never satisfied by temporal things. If you want to be free of the enslaving influence of maya (illusion, sin, haram) over the material senses, and avoid the psycho-physical troubles that come from unbridled desire, you must understand what it is that you really desire. That is, union with the Divine. Nothing else will satiate the senses or bring peace and joy.

As we explore these theosophical arguments for a Divine Being it is important that I stress I am not giving this Being a name here, but simply speaking in general terms. I am not suggesting the philosophical evidence points to any specific religious tradition. I’m simply addressing the existence of this transcendental reality that is accepted in all authentic Theistic spiritual traditions of the world. 

Contingency

Contingency also argues for the existence of this Divine Being. To make this philosophical position simple, I have put it in a syllogism.

1. If something exists, there in turn must exist a cause for that thing to exist.

2. The universe-all beings and things in space and time-exist.

3. Therefore, there must exist a cause for the existence of the universe.

4. The cause of the existence of the universe cannot exist within the universe or be limited by time and space.

5. Therefore, the cause of the existence of the universe must transcend time and space.

If the Materialist seeks to deny premise #1, this would be an absurdity, since it would mean the universe is eternally self-existent, which is refuted by science, including such principles as the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, and the expansion of the universe. In fact, the expansion (and retraction) of the universe is attested to in the Vedic tradition.

The theosophical argument also mentions “all beings and things in time and space”, as part of premise #2. You are one of those beings. You exist as a composite being of matter and spirit. That material aspect of yourself is finite, limited, and changing. You rely on the existence of other beings and material things (food, water, air, etc.) for your existence. As an infant in the womb, you relied on your mother for sustenance. As a child you relied on your parents for food, clothing, protection, shelter, etc. Today you rely on many things as well-food, oxygen, water, etc. This is what it means to be a contingent being. You exist if something else exists, and only exist as an effect from a cause.

However, this implies there must exist something that does not need other things for its existence. It is a necessary being, since all contingent beings logically rely on something to give them existence. So, there must be something that does not exist conditionally; something which exists in and of itself. Unlike us, as composite beings of matter and spirit, this necessary being has no distinction of “parts” and does not change in space and time. This means the cause of all existence cannot be the universe itself (though the material world is an energy of this Divine Being). While the universe can be an impersonal energy of this Being, the Being itself would of necessity be transcendental to time, space and matter.

About
Jake Davila (Nur ibn Yaqub) is a Theologian and Philosopher who has contributed to programming for CNN, The Travel Channel, National Geographic and others. He is of the Traditionalist School of the Philosophia Perennis and is firm in his belief that we can gain knowledge of God, and that all revelations, despite their differences, share a common Source. His approach to spiritual life is inspired by such teachers as Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Ananda Coomaraswamy, Rene Guenon, Ibn Arabi, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, and Isa Nur ad-Din. You can read more about the author here.

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