first major revolution of consciousness that was provoked by the emerging
Science was what we might call the Copernican revolution. Copernicus was
a polish physician, mathematician and clergyman who was one of a small
band of courageous and innovative souls who ushered in the Renaissance
in Europe. The very birth, or perhaps we should say rebirth of Science,
is frequently credited to the publication of Copernicus' Heliocentric
Theory in which he held that the Sun was the center of our System, and
that the Earth was much like the other then known wandering stars, circling
the Sun in a yearly orbit.
This insight into the organization of the heavens was a great stroke of
genius, and it is sometimes seen as a great victory for truth and scientific
inquiry. It is believed that starting with Copernicus, the emerging Science
sounded the death-knell for the many superstitious biblical beliefs and
religious doctrines which were prevalent in those days, but which had
no basis in reason or verifiable experience.
However, when we view this in retrospect we see that far from being a
victory, the effect of Copernicus' revelation was a catastrophe, for it
cut away Man's moorings in the safe harbor in which he had taken shelter
for 1500 years. Its effect was to set Man adrift in an infinite caringless
sea without landmarks and without hope. Suddenly, Man lost his innocence
and his security, and with it, his centrality, in this new understanding
of the make-up of the Creation. Dead matter replaced Man at the center.
That was the long-term effect of the revolution brought about by Copernicus.
Even a great stroke of genius and vision does not make a mind-transforming
revolution. That came about much more slowly as the spirit of the times
steadily shifted towards popular interest in the rigorous logic and objective
reality revealed by Science. The revolution we are speaking of here did
not really crest until hundreds of years after Copernicus, but it had
its beginnings with him in the 16th Century. When the time had come for
a great leap of consciousness, a Copernicus had to come along to sow the
seeds which were to fructify much later, and which were destined to put
mankind on a long and lonely path, that was dry of heart and devoid of
What was the revolutionary change in world-view that we link with Copernicus'
heliocentric insight? What did it eventually lead to? It led to this:
That we are just completely negligible little specks of matter on this
globe which is the Earth; but that this Earth itself is just one of the
minor planets orbiting the Sun; and that the Sun is just a rather ordinary
member of a huge assembly of stars circling within this Milky Way Galaxy;
and that the Milky Way is but one of an incredibly vast number of island
worlds like it, making up this infinite Universe.
So, as physical entities we are a vanishingly small and insignificant
part of this unlimited Universe. Far from being the most important entity
in the very center of the World, we are essentially nothing. And should
even this whole Earth and the Solar System and the Galaxy in which it
is embedded all suddenly vanish without a trace, the Cosmos would be about
as much affected as would be a vast colony of ants if one of its members
With the Copernican revelation, suddenly Man had to face up to his smallness,
a smallness which was now in his relation to cold matter where previously
his smallness had been in his relation to God. Far from being the measure
of all things, Man was now a measure of no consequence, at all. Man, the
heroic figure was lost; and with him God became lost also. In a Universe
of infinite matter that ran like a vast clockwork, there was no continuing
need for God, except perhaps to assemble the whole thing and wind it up
at the beginning. Once it got going, blind laws could take over and a
personal God could easily be dispensed with.
And so, more and more, God went out of sight in the consciousness of Man,
and with His departure went the grandeur of the original vision, of a
Father-protector who looked after Man and eventually brought him home.
Since there was no requirement for such a God in the new philosophy, both
God and man effectively disappeared into the realm of the insignificant.
It was the grand triumph of Nature over God.
This was the powerful current that launched Science and became its dominant
theme for hundreds of years. This was the materialistic view based totally
on gross matter, which was the early preoccupation of Science.
In the mystical understanding we can speak of five levels of illusion
or unreality, maya, which makes up the corpus of the Universe and can
also be seen to make up the successive sheaths or gross and subtle bodies
of Man. Each of these levels or sheaths interpenetrate each other and
is successively finer and more extensive than the previous. Beyond all
these is God, the one true Reality, the Single Source and Essence of everything,
the One Self of which we cannot speak. Covering that in our human awareness
are the five sheaths. Our progression into the realm of Spirit is to uncover
these one by one. The first and grossest of these sheaths is the physical,which
represents the material aspect of the Universe. It is associated with
the materialistic view given above. It is a cold, dreary, heartless domain,
which still has much of the World locked in its grip. It represents the
insane world-view in which physical matter is recognized as constituting
the only reality.