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What Is Transcendence?

The word transcendence is often tossed around in spiritual circles, but what does it really mean? Are spiritual seekers supposed to transcend? If so, what’s involved in doing it? At times we can learn a great deal when we explore word origins and their meanings. At other times, we discover those meanings have tripped us up because we assume the definition is accurate. To dissect the concept of transcendence we can begin by looking at several common dictionary definitions:


Climb over or surmount

Surpass or go beyond the usual limits

Lying beyond the ordinary range of perception, knowledge, comprehension or experience

The first point to consider in each of these definitions is that an arbitrary limit has been imposed between what ‘appears’ to be normal and what does not. This limitation implies that if we’re to transcend, we would either have to be personally extraordinary or do something that was considered exceptional.

There are two more definitions of a more metaphysical nature that that can’t be overlooked:

Existing apart from the material universe

Beyond human knowledge or experience: the unknowable

The first of these two definitions applies to supernatural beings that are disconnected from humanity since they exist outside the material universe. Although most early religions believed the gods existed ‘inside’ the universe, Aristotle promoted the belief that the gods were ‘outside’ the universe. This disconnect between God and man created a rift that made transcendence necessary. Since Aristotle the belief in an ‘outside’ god has become an accepted theme in many religions. The second of these two definitions implies that there is knowledge within the supernatural realm that cannot be accessed by humans.

If we take these definitions we’ve looked at so far at face value, they tell us that transcendence is dependent on being exceptional, doing something extraordinary or surmounting a barrier. That’s acceptable if our goal is breaking an Olympic record, but quite another thing if we apply it to knowing God. But, if we believe these definitions, then knowing God is considered a nearly impossible feat accomplished only by the favored few. Since these definitions give us the impression the Divine is both out of reach and unknowable. It’s little wonder that many who feel a thirst for a connection with the Divine give up before they even try.

Never-the-less, spiritual masters through the ages have experienced the Divine, but not by being extraordinary of doing something exceptional. Many claim these seers transcended the limits of what is considered normal, but we would argue that that is not the case. Rather, they understood there were no limits. Why? They saw transcendence in a completely different way.

Despite Aristotle’s theory of an ‘outside’ God, quantum research tells us the universe is one interconnected, indivisible whole that’s permeated by life and consciousness. And many physicists are now saying the matrix that gives and sustains life is God. The masters who have experienced the Divine don’t need scientific support, they’ve always known through direct, personal experience that we are within the Divine, and the Divine is within us. Since it would be impossible to be outside this wholeness, how would we transcend?

There is a barrier involved, but it’s a barrier we’ve erected, so instead of surmounting it, we can demolish it instead. The barrier that blinds us to our true identity as an inseparable part of the whole is our own limited perception. We can begin by transcending the commonly held belief that we are separate beings disconnected from the Divine. We can understand that the universe of separate forms is no more than an illusion that overlays quantum oneness. We can see the Divine in all things.

yin yang 1Our demolition work begins with letting go of the dualistic thought process that makes up the foundation of separation. Everything in our universe exists as a continuum, but every continuum is made up of variations of the opposites that lie at each end, like light and dark. Opposing forces are not a problem when we understand that everything within oneness depends on its opposite for balance and completion. The yin yang symbol allows us to visualize the balance and perfect integration of opposites within oneness. As symbols of positive (yang) and negative (yin) cosmic energy, each carries a portion of the other within itself. Neither energy dominates nor can the parts be separated and still exist within the context of wholeness.

As Alan Watts pointed out, “The art of life is not seen as holding to yang and banishing yin, but as keeping the two in balance, because there cannot be one without the other…philosophers…saw the positive and the negative as aspects of t’ai chi, the Great Ultimate…The yin-yang principle is not, therefore, what we would ordinarily call a dualism, but rather an explicit duality expressing an implicit unity.”

Unfortunately, our version of duality is based on the premise that we can embrace one end of the continuum and reject the other, that we can enjoy the pleasure without experiencing the pain. We believe we can take the parts out of the whole and make them greater than the whole. By so doing, we’ve lost our balance as well as our connection to oneness. We see our brothers as competition for scarce commodities everyone wants, but these greedy desires create far more losers than winners. We see our planet’s flora, fauna and natural resources as lifeless, unknowing objects to be controlled and subjugated instead of understanding that we cannot harm anything without harming the whole. Because we no longer recognize our Source within us, we construct gods of our own design that encourage the madness.

The Divine is whispering to us night and day. Transcendence is not about trying to reach the unreachable, its understanding the Divine has never been out of reach.

All things become one, whatever their state of being. Only he who has transcended sees this oneness—Chuang Tzu


Chuang Tzu: Lessons in Uselessness

If you’re reading this sentence, it’s probably because your curiosity got the best of you. After all, why would anyone want to intentionally teach uselessness? From the time we’re quite young society conditions us to be useful and promises the more useful we are the more rewards we’ll receive. Chuang Tzu, like other Taoist masters,… Continue Reading

Filed Under: Tao