Never forget that the universe is a single living organism possessed of one substance and one soul, holding all things suspended in a single consciousness and creating all things with a single purpose that they might work together spinning and weaving and knotting whatever comes to pass.Marcus Aurelius
This is an interesting take on the nature of reality, because I wouldn’t expect to hear it from someone with Aurelius’s background. I guess I hadn’t put much thought into the idea of an afterlife from a Stoic point of view, because the philosophy predominantly addresses how to live in and enjoy the present.
What Aurelius is expressing is known as Pantheism, “the belief that God consists of everyone and everything. For example, a tree is God, a mountain is God, the universe is God, all people are God.” 1 It reminds me of the popular quote about how we are all the universe experiencing itself.
I’m also reminded of the fact that people are made up of smaller communities of creatures and systems that developed into humans over time, and then I think about the universe as a whole and wonder if the universe is some larger being, or part of a larger being. What if we’re actually just part of a digestive tract and black holes are how the energy we produce is passed on to the other systems of the larger organism? What if our universe is a marble in a sack of marbles? You never know.
But in terms of pantheism and how it was understood, that we are all manifestations of the divine or that some divine essence undergirds and flows through all existence, the idea seems to be common to some Buddhists, Hindus, and some forms of Christianity, like Unity, Christian Science, and Scientology. There is also some overlap between Stoicisms understanding of the soul returning to the Cosmic Fire and being reforged as a new soul and the Buddhist idea of the soul reaching Nirvana, escaping the cycle of rebirth and permanently reuniting with the divine essence. Early Christians believed in reincarnation as well, and the Christian idea was probably closer to the Stoic conception because in Buddhist reincarnation there is an expectation that souls retain something from previous lives, even if it’s just karma.
The concept of pantheism also has parallels with mainstream beliefs about Jesus being an expression of God in the physical realm. And of course, there’s the idea that God blew his breathe into humans to give us sentience, but humans carrying a divine spark is a bit different from the idea that all things are God.
Still, it’s interesting to see how ideas about divinity and existence develop over time, often overlapping, and have common themes between the past and present.
1 Zavada, Jack. “What Is Pantheism?” Learn Religions, Feb. 16, 2021, learnreligions.com/what-is-pantheism-700690.
2 Strickland, Ashley. “Hubble spies stellar ‘ghost’ wandering the Milky Way galaxy” CNN, June 14, 2022, cnn.com/2022/06/14/world/wandering-black-hole-milky-way-scn/index.html.