The Hindu practice of raja yoga has become popular in Western culture, especially within the New Age movement. Chanting om while sitting in the lotus position is meant to make one consciously aware that all is one (monism) and all is God (pantheism).
That’s right! You read correctly. As a meditative technique, yoga is supposed to lead to knowledge that the tree is god, you are god, and I am god.
I would argue that such a technique is futile. No enlightenment can ever occur because the end goal is not real—all is not God.
Among the many ways one can disprove the notion “All is God,” I will offer two simple arguments.
Argument #1: God’s immateriality
The first is from God’s immateriality. The reasoning is as follows:
Premise 1: If all things were God, then God would be material.
Premise 2: But God can’t be material.
Conclusion: Therefore, all things can’t be God.
I don’t think anyone would dispute premise one. It is obvious that some things are material. As such, God would have to be material if he is everything.
Premise two, however, needs support. How do we know God is immaterial? We know God is immaterial because he is absolutely simple—he has no parts, either physical (e.g., arms and legs) or metaphysical (e.g., essence and existence).
Consider St. Thomas Aquinas’s axiom that “every composite . . . is subsequent to its components” (Summan Contra Gentiles I.18). This means that parts are prior to the whole. Such priority can be either temporal—e.g., the building materials that form a house—or ontological—e.g., the slices that make up a pizza. Whether the priority is temporal or ontological, the bottom line is that a whole cannot exist without its parts and thus is dependent on them.
Moreover, a whole also necessitate a cause outside itself to unite its parts. As St. Thomas Aquinas writes:
Every composition, likewise, needs some composer. For, if there is composition, it is made up of a plurality, and a plurality cannot be fitted into a unity except by some composer (Summa Contra Gentiles I.18).
The rationale behind Aquinas’s argument is that every whole has prior potentiality. Take for example the whole AB. Prior to the unification of AB, parts A and B were distinct and only potentially one—able to become unified. Now, in order for parts A and B to be unified, their potential to be one must be actualized by another.
To assert that parts A and B could actualize their own potential for unification is tantamount to saying parts A and B are actually unified and potentially unified in the same respect at the same place and time. But this is a contradiction. Therefore, the potential for parts A and B to be one must be actualized by something other than themselves—namely, a cause.
So all composite beings depend on their parts and depend on outside causes for their existence. But God, as classically defined, is the uncaused cause (the demonstration of this point goes beyond the scope of the present article). This means that he can’t depend on or be caused by anything. Therefore, God can’t be a composite being with component parts—whether physical or metaphysical. He must be absolutely simple.
It’s evident that material things are composed of parts. For example, human bodies in their natural state have arms and legs. The computer on which you are reading this blog has a built-in hard drive, wires, and software. Scholastics go even further and identify in every material thing’s metaphysical composition. For example, every material thing has form (that which makes something the kind of thing it is) and matter (the stuff out of which something is made). Moreover, every material thing is composed of essence (nature)—what something is—and existence (being)—that it is.
But if God can’t have any parts—whether physical or metaphysical—and every material thing is a composite of physical and metaphysical parts, then God can’t be material. If God can’t be material, then everything can’t be God. Yoga, therefore, leads to a dead end.
Argument #2: God’s absolute necessity
The second argument disproving the notion, “all is God,” is from God’s absolute necessity—his existence is essential to his nature. The reasoning is as follows:
Premise 1: If all things were God, then God would be a possible being.
Premise 2: But God can’t be a possible being.
Conclusion: Therefore, all things can’t be God.
Let’s consider premise one. What is a “possible being”?
It is evident from experience that things come into and go out of existence. St. Thomas Aquinas calls such things possible beings—something whose non-existence is a real possibility (see St. Thomas Aquinas, Metaphysics, bk. IX, less. 3). This is obvious, given the fact that whatever begins to exist at one time did not exist.
Now, in the Thomistic tradition (a tradition of thought following St. Thomas Aquinas), whatever is a possible being does not possess its act of existence by nature. This means that existence—that it is—does not belong to a possible being’s essence—what it is.
Consider the example of a house. Prior to a house being built, the carpenter can ponder the essence of the house (what it is) without it having real existence in the world outside the mind. Notice that the mere thought of the house does not necessitate its existence in the real world. This means that existence does not belong to the essence of the house.
Think of a triangle by way of contrast. It is impossible to think of a triangle without thinking of a figure with three straight sides. This is so because the idea of three straight sides belongs to the essence of a triangle. The house, on the other hand, can be thought of without it existing in the real world. Therefore, the houses’ existence does not belong to the essence of the house—they are distinct. As some philosophers put it, knowing what it is does not determine that it is. This is why the house is merely possible.
Furthermore, when the carpenter builds the house and gives it real existence, the essence of the house does not change. The house’s act of existence—that it is—makes no difference to its essence—what it is. Contrast this with the aforementioned triangle. The idea of three straight sides does make a difference to the essence of a triangle. Why? The answer is because the idea of three straight sides belongs to the essence of a triangle—they are one and the same. But in the case of the house, its existence (that it is)—whether merely in the mind of the carpenter or in the real world—makes no difference to its essence (what it is). As such, its existence does not belong to its essence—that is to say its act of existence is nonessential, making the house a possible being.
So, in light of the house example, we can conclude that whatever being is a possible being does not possess its act of existence by nature—its essence and existence are distinct.
Now that we understand what possible beings are, the truth of premise one becomes clear: if all things were God, then God would have to be a possible being—a being whose essence and existence are distinct and thus does not possess existence by nature.
But, as premise two states, this can’t be. God’s essence cannot be distinct from his existence because he is absolutely simple (as shown above). Contrary to possible beings, whose existence is not essential, God’s act of existence belongs to his nature and therefore is essential—making his nonexistence impossible. As such, God is not a possible being but an absolutely necessary being. Premise two thus stands to reason.
Since both premises are true, and the argument is valid, the conclusion, “all things are not God,” necessarily follows. Once again, yoga leads to a dead end.
While certain stretches utilized in yoga may have some physical benefits, it is futile as a technique for arriving at truth. It is like the child who stays awake all night waiting to prove Santa Claus exists. It’s not going to happen! If folks want to attain conscious awareness of what is real, perhaps they ought to stop sitting in the lotus position chanting “Ommm” and pick up a philosophy book—that is, of course, one that does not teach all is God.