Hierarchy and Unity | Sep 1990

FMBR Editorial: Sep, 1990

Hierarchy and Unity

Marshall Pease

Many of the esoteric disciplines and religions emphasize the hierarchical nature of reality. Reality is described as composed of levels, each embedded in, and guided by, the next level up. If this reflects a structural truth, what should we make of it?

There are those who deny anything beyond the mundane, and so deny any hierarchical structure other than that of the physical and biological worlds. Yet the view of hierarchy beyond the physical is an ancient one, worth contemplating as an important element of human thought. Equally, there are those who would deny the significance of the mundane. Yet that is the most evident level of experience. Why should we be so deeply involved with life if it is irrelevant? Our speaker this month illustrates the hierarchical view, finding the life patterns of the individual on the palm, spiritual guidelines in the unchanging fingerprints. Hierarchical structure is present in many systems of thought. As examples, we can mention the chakras, each conceived as the link to a particular level of being; or astrology where each planet is seen as relating to a particular aspect of the individual; or even the Christian doctrine of the one God manifesting as the Trinity and sometimes further elaborated through the Virgin Mary, the Saints, etc. Other examples could be listed easily. This view seems almost, if not quite, universal as a way of seeing reality.

Yet there is only one reality. There must be flows both ways across the boundaries, or the different levels would not be integrated into a single whole. What we mean by a level, then, is not a separate subsystem, uninfluenced by the rest. Rather, the idea of levels means that coupling between adjacent levels is indirect, and most of the influences visibly operating at any one level come from processes and sources within that level. Yet the neighboring levels also exert influence, albeit, perhaps, in subtle and hidden ways, or there would be no unity.


The incarnate person lives within the world, with most of his feelings, actions and awareness being of that world. Yet the spirit shapes the interaction with the world, hopefully leading the person towards a more universal view, a more authentic expression of whatever it is that lies beyond the immediate and the mundane. The spirit also has its own reasons for incarnating. It seeks the experience of life, but what it seeks to gain from that experience is largely indefinable, at least in the categories of mundane thought and speech.

There are many who, acknowledging the spiritual, would deny the mundane. In doing so, they risk denying the purpose of their own spirits. There are also those who, focused on the mundane, call the spiritual an illusion or worse. In this they deny an over-riding purpose to their own lives and beliefs. To touch the unity, we must accept the hierarchy of the levels. Perhaps the hierarchy is the only path through which the unity can know itself.

Marshall Pease