Immanence means that the divine is inherent in life.
Immanence is a concept that can only be understood in dialectical tension with transcendence. The word transcendence is derived from the Latin roots trans– “from or beyond”, and scandere “to climb.”
The word of Transcendence expresses the idea that God is outside of life or beyond life. This is the normative Western notion of God. God exists in the heaven above. God is the Lord, seated on a throne, in a world above life.
Immanence is defined as “the state of being within.” The word immanence is derived from the Latin root en maneo (the present infinitive is manēre) which means “to stay, wait, or remain within” or “I remain within.”
Baruch Spinoza once said that “all things are in God and so depend on him that without him they can neither be nor be conceived.” (1677)
The ideas of Immanence and transcendence form a binary unity, expressing shifting perspectives on our relationship with the divine. Immanence and transcendence are a sacred polarity. Like mother or father, or black and white, or figure and ground, these concepts can only be fully realized in relationship to each other.
In transcendence, we dream of a foreign God. In immanence, we awaken to a divinity at the heart of existence.
Let us consider the rhizoma root as a metaphor for immanence. A rhizome is an underground root that expands horizontally, sending out shoots and roots from its nodes. The root lies underground and unseen; expanding through nodes, creating new sections and growth. From these root nodes, shoots emerge above ground, sprouting stems, leaves and flowers.
God may be likened to the rhizoma root. God exists unseen in the heart of life. All of life originates from God. Life is the emergent form of God.
One manifestation of the rhizome is the lotus, a plant that is often depicted in spiritual myths and symbolism. In the image above, a lotus is shown rising from the navel of the Hindu deity Vishnu. The deity Brahma is born from this lotus. Vishnu is an image of the sacred ground or the rhizoma root (the Godhead) from which life emerges.
In Dzogchen Buddhist teachings, read about the base, the path, and the fruit. The base is the sacred ground of life; the path is the method of realization; and the fruit is the realization of the divine within life (True Nature). These three aspects are represented in the symbol of the Gankyil.
One might say that the base of life is immanence: that which ‘remains within’. The path is transcendence: that which ‘goes beyond’ (the development of consciousness). The fruit is the realization of our true nature. This is the meaning of enlightenment.
The modern philosophy of Gilles Deleuze explores the idea of immanence. We find immanence in the heart of human existence, and yet always “beneath the transcendence of effort.” Deleuze describes immanence in terms such as “becoming” and “possibility” or as a “pure stream of subjective consciousness.”
Deleuze says, “immanence has two facets as Thought and as Nature, as Nous and as Physis.” He adds, “the plane of immanence is ceaselessly being woven.” (ibid.) This weaving of Nous and Physis, thought and nature, can be thought of in terms of the sacred rhizoma root: ceaseless birthing existence, and yet it is also the totality of existence itself. Deleuze says, “immanence is not immanent to substance; rather, substance and modes are in immanence.”(ibid)
Carl Jung speaks of immanence. He says,
“Life has always seemed to me like a plant that lives on its rhizome. Its true life is invisible, hidden in the rhizome. The part that appears above the ground lasts only a single summer. Then it withers away—an ephemeral apparition. When we think of the unending growth and decay of life and civilizations, we cannot escape the impression of absolute nullity. Yet I have never lost the sense of something that lives and endures beneath the eternal flux. What we see is blossom, which passes. The rhizome remains.” – Carl Jung, MDR p. 18
Jung believed that this root of life could be found within each individual, in the depths of the Self.
In the Mysterium Coniunctionis (CW 14), Carl Jung speaks of immanence as a deep alchemical truth. He speaks of “the secret immanence of the divine spirit of life in all things” (CW 14). Although his writings did not go into the concept of immanence directly, his works continually circled around the concept, touching upon the idea. I believe that this was Jung’s esoteric way of speaking about enlightenment.
Immanence is that within us that is more than us. It weaves the very web of life. To open to immanence is to be connected to that within our Self that is more than our self: to be enlivened by the divinity which is all around us and within us.
- Benedict De Spinoza, 1677, Ethica Ordine Geometrico Demonstrata (The Ethics)
- Image : Vishnu and Lakshmi on Shesha Nāga, c. 1870. US public domain via wikimedia