What is there in common between an annihilation through death, an exit into nirvana through self-extinction, and an entry into a communion of saints? On first thoughts, these three visions of ultimate reality look as if they were irreconcilable with each other, but on second thoughts we can see that they each present a picture of an identical goal. They each testify that the cause of sin and suffering and sorrow is the separation of sentient beings, in their brief passage through the phenomenal world, from the timeless reality behind the phenomena, and that a reunion with this reality is the sole but sovereign cure for our ailing world’s ills. Communion, extinguishedness, and annihilation are alternative images of reintegration. They are symbols of a consummation that is ineffable because it is the antithesis of Man’s experience in his ephemeral life on Earth. They are variations on a single theme: the return from discord to harmony, or, in Sinic terms, from Yang to Yin. “To Him return ye, one and all.” “Das unbeschreibliche, Hier ist’s getan.”
Footnotes for the quotations:
Goethe, Faust, ll. 12108-9: “The ineffable – why, here, this is accomplished” […].
With Jane Caplan, A Study of History, new one-volume abridgement, with new material and revisions, a Foreword by Toynbee, maps and, for the first time, illustrations, Thames & Hudson, 1972