What is Immanence?

Vishnu and Lakshmi on Shesha Nāga, c. 1870. US public domain via wikimedia
Vishnu and Lakshmi on Shesha Nāga, c. 1870. US public domain via wikimedia

Immanence is a concept that can only be understood in dialectical tension with transcendence. Immanence is “the state of being within.” The word 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.” The word transcendence is derived from the Latin roots trans– “from or beyond”, and scandere “to climb.” These two concepts form a dialectical unity, expressing shifting perspectives on our relationship with the divine.

Immanence and transcendence are a pair; they are dialectical signifier to each other. Like black and white, or figure and ground, these concepts can only be fully realized in relationship to each other. Sometimes one aspect is in focus, and at other times the other. But just as it takes a mother and a father to produce a child, so too it takes transcendence and immanence to realize the true nature of the Self.

In Western philosophy, immanence may have found its first full exposition in a co-relationship with heretical religious explorations of the Body of God. Baruch Spinoza conceived of an immanent philosophy, writing that “all things are in God and so depend on him that without him they can neither be nor be conceived.” (1677) The concept that all things are in God is a radical one, declaring that life itself is divine and holy.

The modern philosophy of Gilles Deleuze explores immanence without God as signifier. In his book titled Pure Immanence, Deleuze describes immanence as a life, he says:

“We will say of pure immanence that it is A LIFE and noting else. [later he adds] A life is everywhere, in all moments that a given living subject goes through and that are measured by giving lived objects: an immanent life carrying with it the events or singularities that are actualized in subjects and objects. This indefinite life does not itself have moments, close as they may be to one another, but only between-times”(2001)

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 tells us, “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 as the rhizomal root of life, ceaseless birthing existence, and yet it is the also the totality of existence itself.

Deleuze says, “immanence is not immanent to substance; rather, substance and modes are in immanence.”(ibid) Thus all things are contained within immanence. All things both arise from immanence and exist within immanence. Let us consider the rhizomal 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. The rhizome is one plant that encompass both the immanent and hidden root system, as well as the manifest and emergent form of the stem and flowers.

One manifestation of the rhizome is the lotus, a plant that is often depicted in spiritual myths and symbolism. The lotus is one of the eight auspicious symbols that appear in Buddhist art and myths.

In the image above, a lotus is shown rising from the navel of Supreme God Vishnu. Brahma is born from this lotus. One can see Vishnu (or the cosmic Self) as the rhizomal root of existence. Brahma represents the Self (Atman) emerging from the root of existence.

In Dzogchen, one speaks of 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 truth. 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 the divine which is both within us and all around us.

Immanence, then, can be seen as both the ground of life and the manifestation of consciousness within life. From this perspective transcendence is simply the emergence of consciousness within the field of immanence.

Gankyil, US Public Domina
Gankyil, US Public Domina

References:

  1. Benedict De Spinoza, 1677,  Ethica Ordine Geometrico Demonstrata (The Ethics)
  2. In The Vertigo of Immanence, Miguel De Beistegui says, “Given the relatively recent nature of Deleuzian scholarship, we still lack a unified understanding of the significance (and signification) of that thought… Judging by the ever-increasing number of publications devoted to it, this is a thought that is in the process of being canonized.”
  3. Pure Immanence: Essays on A Life. Deleuze, 2001 Gilles. p. 28-29
  4. Ibid, p. 38
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3 thoughts on “What is Immanence?

  1. I’m excited to see this discussion of immanent awareness as a state we can experience in our daily lives.

    I did my dissertation on Husserl’s description of immanence. It always seemed to me that his advocating of the “phenomenological reduction” was a sort of spiritual practice, and that he was a practical mystic. The difference between Husserl’s immanence and Deleuze’s, I think, is that Husserl says that immanent perception has two “sides”: the streaming contents and the pure empty unchanging awareness that registers those contents.

    For me, cultivating immanent awareness involves trying to remain aware of that pure shining infinite “empty side”…..

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  3. That which is immanent in me wants to rest here in oneness as pure immanence, to simply be. That which is transcendent in me wants to follow the hero’s path to full consciousness and experience the fullness of being. This is the dialectical tension jungian types speak of, the tension which is our life. 🙂

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