Metaphysics and the Perennial Philosophy

In another book of mine, “Symbol and Archetype”, I have entitled the second chapter: “The Decisive Boundary”, and it is about this particular boundary, which is very important; of crucial importance to us all, because it is that beyond which we have to go, and beyond, which even lies what spiritually is called: “The Heart”, often joined with the expression: “The Eye of the Heart”.1 That eye is still in the domain of metaphysics, because it is on the other side of the boundary from here. The Golden Fleece was in the domain of metaphysics. Another symbol – I forgot to mention – was the passage of the children of Israel across the waters of the Red Sea. That again is an example comparable to the Greek: “God held the waters of the Red Sea apart”, just as the goddess Athene held the clashing rocks apart, and so, the children of Israel were able to pass across, but the sea came together and drowned their enemies. The passage through this narrow gate; – again I use the words used by Christ: “Entry into the narrow gate”- a difficult passage, mentioned and symbolized in many different ways. The word transcendent, strictly speaking, coincides with metaphysics. That trance is in the word: ‘Meta’, and the word ‘transcendent’ can only be used of what lies beyond the “clashing rocks”; beyond the narrow gate, and beyond the barrier, – the ‘Barzakh’, in Arabic – which separates the two seeds. As to the word ‘sacred’, which sometimes is synonymous with ‘transcendent’, but it is more general. This word was in the beginning sacred, but now, the word sacred can only be implied to what here below is impregnated with spiritual significance, because what is here below has become polluted, corrupted. What is impregnated with spiritual significance are the Divine Messengers; the founders of religion; those saints who prolonged and protected their messages throughout the ages; throughout the centuries. Likewise, sacred are the works of sacred art, which are crystallizations of sanctity in stone, and their counterparts in poetry and music, but first of all we must include Virgin Nature itself, which was created to manifest the Absolute Infinite Perfection. Now, metaphysics is included in “Sophia Perennis” – in perennial philosophy – as that which concerns the Intellect, but man is not only intelligence. Anything that can be called religion – religio perennis – must concern not only part of man, but the whole of man and man is not only intelligence, nor is his intelligence all together in the domain of metaphysics. When I was a student at Oxford, I was privileged to have C.S.Lewis as my tutor and I remember a lecture he gave on the medieval perspective, that prevailed in England, in the time of the 13th-14th century and he mentioned that it was dominated in many respects by what had been written by Boethius, and according to Boethius, the human intelligence has four levels. Firstly, I will give the Latin terms as used by him: “Intellectus”, “Ven Ratio”, “Ven Imaginato”, “Ven Sensus”; Intellect, Reason, Imagination and the Senses. Now, of those faculties only one is in the domain of metaphysics and that is the Intellect. I remember Lewis emphasizing that Intellect alone of the faculties is directly concerned with the Transcendent; with the “beyond”; with the “here after”. The other faculties, Reason is the hand-maid, or should be the hand-maid to the Intellect. The Intellect itself is only concerned with what lies “beyond”; what is transcendent; in other words, with metaphysical truth. Metaphysical doctrine means teaching. Teaching what? What is that receives the teaching? I’m not using the word ‘intellect’ in the modern misuse of the word, because as you know, it is used to simply mean intelligence in the modern language, but in the correct sense of the Latin ‘intellectus’ as used by Boethius. Metaphysical doctrine is not addressed to the Intellect, because the Intellect does not need teaching, being itself metaphysical. It has direct perception of metaphysical realities and in any case, -in the vast majority of men today – the Intellect is veiled so that it cannot be reached by teaching in any case. That teaching will come later to what metaphysical teaching is addressed to, but it is not addressed to the Intellect. The Intellect is universally recognized as being enthroned in the “heart” and what is meant by ‘heart’ in the inner aspect of the different religions, is not the center of the body, but it is the center of the soul; the “Heart” as the center of the psychic substance. You’ve all heard the mentioning of “The Eye of the Heart” and that “Eye” only can perceive metaphysical truth directly and that sight is what man lost at the Fall; hearts became veiled. This is a universal doctrine, one finds it in all religions. The Koran says: “It is not the eye’s sights that are blind, it is the hearts in the breasts that are blind”. In the Beatitudes, the words: “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God”. That “sight” is always associated with the Heart. The Prophet of Islam said: “My heart is awake, like the hearts of the prophets before me”. The wake of the Heart means that it can see; the Eye is open. The main purpose in all esoterism is to open that inward eye, which is blind in the soul. Eckhart was referring to this when he said: “In the soul there is something uncreated and uncreatable”. That is the Intellect, and that is the Intellect in the true sense as used by Boethius and it is the Intellect, which sees the metaphysical realities of the Next World. That is what the inner aspect of religion is about; is concerned with. Wherever you go; Hinduism, Buddhism and the three monoistic religions, in their mysticism, are all concerned primarily with this. It is as if at the Fall of man, human consciousness had been abstracted from the Heart at the Fall, and then drawn out backwards and downwards through the “narrow gate” in the wrong direction; between the “clashing rocks”, – again in the wrong direction – so as to be imprisoned altogether in this world. In other words, at the Fall, man lost the direct sense of the transcendent, hence the need for metaphysics, which is as we have seen the Doctrine of the Transcendent.
Now, in sum, to go back to the question of teaching, in some very exceptional cases that doctrine can unveil the Intellect, if its not to heavily veiled, as in a flash of light, as it were, and that is sometimes called: “Intellection”, but that is a grace, which no one has the right to rely on as a possibility for himself or herself. The main function of metaphysics has to do with what we call: Intuition. The Heart is as we have seen, on the other side of the “Narrow Gate” and the “Clashing Rocks”, but the human mind is not immediately on this side of that “gate”. Above the mind there lies what we sometimes call the higher reaches of human intelligence, and these reaches are the domain of intuition. I’ll come back in a moment to the effect of metaphysics in this domain, but first of all I must say a word about the perennial philosophy. There is in the end of one of Frithjof Schuons books, “Light on the Ancient Worlds”: “It has been said more than once that total truth is inscribed in an immortal script in the very substance or our intelligence; what the different revelations do is to “crystalize” and “actualize”, in different degrees, a nucleus of certitudes, which not only abides forever in the divine Omniscience, but also sleeps by refraction in the kernel of the individual”. In other words, – according to the perennial philosophy- total Truth is inscribed in the depths of every human being, where in most cases today, it sleeps in the kernel of the individual, but it sleeps in different degrees. Now, there is a reference to “Religio Perennis” in Sofokles play: “Antigone”, a very moving passage. The situation is as follows: The two sons of Oedipus have been fighting against each other in a civil war, and they are living in Thebes, and Creon the king of Thebes – both brothers are killed – gives an order after the battle, that the brother who was loyal to Thebes should be buried with all honors, but that the body of the other brother – who was fighting against the city – must be left on the battle field to rot and nobody must bury it. Antigone is their sister, and she goes to the king, and says that she cannot make this decree; that he must allow her to bury the brother even though that he was fighting against the city; he must allow her to go out and bury her brother. He refuses and she says: “I did not think that you would be capable to act against the the unwritten and unfailing statutes of the gods. These are not of today, nor yesterday, but from all time, and no one knoweth when they were first put forth”. That is a very clear reference to Religio Perennis; that is something which is inscribed in – as Schuon says – in our intelligences and it is something universal. It is not about how a body is to be buried; whether to be burnt or wether to be placed in the earth, it is a question of the fact that the living – under the obligation of looking after the dead – cannot abandon them. This is an aspect – that Antigone understood – of these unwritten, and unfailing statutes of the gods, and there lies the tragedy. She disobeys Creon. I will again quote what Frithjof Schuon said about the development of the cycle: “In the Golden Age men lived on the memory of the lost Paradise and on their inward religion; – that was Religio Perennis – they did not need an outwardly revealed religion. Then men became effected by passions to the point of forgetting certain aspects of Truth, and religions like Hinduism where revealed, but when passions dominated men, still more religions were needed like the last three of this cycle of time, but each one has an inner aspect like the older religions, which is scented on metaphysical truth”. Again, I will quote from Schuon: “Knowledge saves only – and this has got to do with metaphysics; it is very relevant – knowledge saves only on condition that it enlists all that we are; only when it is the way, which tills and which transforms, and which wounds our nature as the plough wounds the earth. Metaphysical knowledge is sacred; it is the rite of sacred things to demand of man all that he is”. Now, what is this “all”? I mentioned earlier – and it connects with metaphysics – that man is not only Intelligence, and this all is Intelligence, Will, and Character – instead of character you could say: Soul or Psychic Substance. That is why the revealed religions – who have to deal with man; they are for man – are always three fold; there is always a doctrine; there is always a method; and there is always a moral aspect. These three doctrines relates to the Intelligence. The method is imposed by the Will; it is the Will that has to impose the method and morals concerning the Psychic Substance; they are the Virtues. Every religion is Truth, Way and Virtue. Now, to go back to the question of metaphysical teaching, I said that it is concerned first of all with the intuition, which lies in what we may call, the higher reaches of the Psychic Substance; beyond the mind, but on this side still of the Narrow Gate and the Clashing Rocks; not yet in contact with the Heart directly, but non the less. The intuitions are glimmerings of light, which come from the veiled Heart and therefore from the Intellect. Metaphysical teaching creates in this domain – the domain of the intuitions – vibrations; metaphysical truths. When the seeker hears metaphysical truths, vibrations will be made in the higher reaches of his Intelligence, and these vibrations should normally awaken corresponding vibrations in the deeper reaches of the Will. Relatively speaking, we can speak of hight and depth; the domain of intuitions is objective, in a certain sense; the domain of the will is more subjective, and these vibrations in the deeper reaches of the Will are rather subjective vibrations, corresponding to the objective vibrations of the intuition. The Will, thanks to these vibrations chooses the absolute rather than the relative; it chooses the infinite rather than the finite; it chooses the eternal rather than the ephemeral. The Will says to the Soul: I have decided that we shall follow a spiritual path, but here comes the main problem of spirituality: The Will cannot say to the Soul: And you will like it. In other words, you can lead a horse to the waters, but you cannot make it drink, – and that is the great problem – because if the horse does not drink, then everything is lost or rather, there will be a setback; no progress can be made. That is why in some traditions, here, is the origin of what in Islam is called: The Greater Holy War. When the Prophet was on his way back from a battle, in which he was victorious – in one of his last military campaigns – He said: “We have returned from the lesser holy war, to the greater holy war”. They said: “What is the greater holy war”? He said: “The war against the soul”. The problem here is that the Soul is made up of multiple elements. In fallen man these elements are in chaos, and many of them are dormant and they all have to be put in their right place; they all have to be won over, and that is why something like war may be said to take place. The means of war are different kinds of asceticism. All that has to do with compelling the Soul to submit and like–eventually, because the Soul has to like to love spirituality–its only then that unity can be established in the Soul of the seeker, and then there is no longer any difficulty or any problem. In his book “Echoes of Perennial Wisdom”, Schuon says something very pertinent to this: “It is all very well for the Intelligence to affirm metaphysical and eschatological – eschatological is what has got to do with our final ends – truths. The imagination and the subconscious continued to believe firmly in the world, not in God; not in the Here After”.
In another passage he says: “The way calls for a reeducation, and a regeneration of imagination and feeling, which are falsified by the world. It is in fact the world that determines them, where as they should live on the concrete consciousness of our final ends”.
This is the great difficulty, which is faced in spirituality and it explains a lot of what you have read of mystical treatises in the different traditions.

  1. Also “The Spiritual Heart” or “The Lotus of the Heart”.()
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  • You’ve no idea how hard I’ve looked for a gift to bring You. Nothing seemed right. What’s the point of bringing gold to a goldmine, or water to the ocean. Everything I came up with was like taking spices to the Orient. It’s no good giving my heart and soul, because You already have these. So – I’ve brought You a mirror. Look at Yourself and remember me.

    - Jalaluddin Rumi