Corbin, Nature, Divinity (and me!)
One of the questions that appears on social-networking profiles, dating & matchmaking sites, and various personality surveys is: What is your Religion? I typically answer, ‘Spiritual but not Religious’ though there is never a box to check that adequately defines my relationship with the Divine.
I grew out of my Catholic upbringing before I hit puberty, and I’ve been exploring all sorts of spiritual and inner-mystical terrains since. I’ve spent time with Muslims, Mormons, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Celtic Druids, Amazonian Shamen…the list goes on.
In this blog, I’m going to focus on some of the realizations I came to after a six-month sojourn to Morocco in my twenties, when I was fist led to discover the Sufi tradition of Islam (and from there—other Gnostic & esoteric means of revelation.) I also dove into the philosophies of Heidegger, Jean Biès, Mircia Eliade, Avincenna, Suhrawardi, and one of my favorites—French philosopher and theologian, Henry Corbin.
Kind-hearted author/philosopher, Tom Cheetham, does a beautiful job of describing Corbin’s unique faith as: a bit of Christian theology, Heideggerian phenomenology, and Islamic mysticism fused with Zoroastrian angelology… all united by a deep reverence for the primordial revelation: the book of Nature. There is no better way to introduce Corbin than by reading a bit of his writing, so below is an excerpt from a meditation titled, Theology by the Lakeside, written by Corbin in 1932 at the edge of Lake Siljan in Sweden.
It will soon be dusk, but for now the clouds are still clear, the pines are not yet darkened, for the lake brightens them into transparency. And everything is green with a green that would be richer than if pulling all the organ stops in recital. It must be heard seated, very close to the Earth, arms crossed, eyes closed, pretending to sleep.
For it is not necessary to strut about like a conqueror and want to give a name to things, to everything; it is they who will tell you who they are, if you listen, yielding like a lover; for suddenly for you, in the untroubled peace of the North, the Earth has come to Thou, visible as an Angel that would perhaps be a woman, and in this apparition, this greatly green and thronging solitude, yes, the Angel too is robed in green, the green of dusk, of silence and of truth. Then there is in you all the sweetness that is present in the surrender to an embrace that triumphs over you.
…The Mystery of Holy Communion where you will be ushered in, where all beings will be present, yes, you can only say it in the future. Because at each moment where you read in truth as now what is there before you, where you hear the Angel, and the Earth and Woman, then you receive Everything, Everything, in your absolute poverty. But as soon as you have read and have received, as soon as you consider, as you want to understand, as you want to possess, to give a name and restrain, to explain and recover, ah! there is only a cipher, and your judgment is pronounced…
…you are the poor one, you are man; and he is God, and you cannot know God, or the Angel, or the Earth, or Woman. You must be encountered, taken, known, that they may speak, otherwise you are alone…
I believe one of the goals of being a human being is to bring everything possible into consciousness so we can become as whole as possible. We can then obtain freedom for the ego to participate in conscious evolution and freedom to consciously submit to the larger whole. This is, in part, why during my trip to Morocco, I resonated so intensely with the mystical aspects of Islam. In its purest sense, islam = submission.
There is a story about a student who approaches a great sage and asks, “In the olden days there were men who saw the face of God…Why don’t they anymore?” The sage replies, “Because nowadays no one can stoop so low. One must stoop to fetch water from the stream.”
The greatest leap of faith we can take is to kneel, to bow, to relinquish control and to allow the Goddess to lead. I believe the hesitancy and fear many of us have is that we’re unsure of what exactly we’ll be submitting to. Will God expect to leave our partners or families for a life of solitude? Will we be called to relinquish our desire for wealth in order to follow our dreams? Can we hold onto our most cherished beliefs even after we’ve agreed to open our Minds to bigger ways of seeing? Ultimately, these questions are futile because when we agree to submit to God, we are just submitting to the reality of the Universe—the natural unfolding of things—and to not submit to that natural force is the only losing battle.
As Cheetham brought to the foreground of my consciousness: it’s been a long time since most of us have really experienced the World. Instead, we experience a constriction of it, a selection of it, a lack of breadth and depth. We step out cautiously checking ourselves against What is Allowed & What is Known. We throw a world out ahead of ourselves and move safely into it. We have found our way into a closed world…and we have mistaken it for infinity. So how do we come to know the World most authentically? And why our aching desire to know anything?
There is an old Sufi saying that God created the world so he could come to know Itself. By igniting the spark of creation and then hiding deep in the human heart, God could feel and be felt as an outpouring of Divine love. Following this line of belief, to be is to be perceived (by the Other), so God chose to forfeit wholeness so that God could then make the choice to return to that wholeness again…in part, through loving the Beloved. Only by making the choice to nestle inside the human heart did God have the ability to then turn back towards the source (Love!) and direct his gaze in contemplation and admiration. If God had never divided Itself, it would have never come to know Itself in all its infinite possibilities.
And since the purpose of creation is knowledge (for us to know God…which ultimately means: God within our hearts knowing Itself) we are fulfilling the purpose of creation by desiring to know and know thyself. To be known, is the most Godlike desire a creature can have.
—and it takes a special kind of attention to hear it. Jean Biès explores this beautifully in his book, Returning to the Essential. Nature is best addressed through a receptive mind and a gentle soul. It takes more than mere physics to explain nature. Nature is an equation of unknowable beauty and dignity. And the psyche of Nature, or what Henry Corbin refers to as the anima mundi, is often evident as a kind of sadness. Nature’s tone strikes many of us as having some melancholy in it. Lucretius refers to this as the tears of things. In Japanese poetry it is called ‘mono no aware’, the slender sadness. Iranian philosopher Mir Damad perceives this sadness as the silent clamor of beings in their metaphysical distress. All things can only be as made-to-be. This is mystical poverty. I feel this sadness in nature as similar to the sadness that the unrevealed God once experienced in his unknownness. It is a Divine sadness—an anguish, really.
In our ever-present desire to know, to be, and to become more and everything and whole and complete—one of the saddest paradoxes remains: we can only be as-made-to-be.
Everything human exists within the realm of the ‘more-than-human’—we are limited and bound by this fact. But it is when we can no longer sense the presence of something alien, vast, and Other just beyond our reach—when we imagine we are the be-all-and-end-all of creation—then, just where we feel secure, we are truly cut off and lost in a false universe of our own making.
The Imaginal Realm, Words As Angels, and Why Heidegger & Nietzsche fail…
Brought to my consciousness by Cheetham’s book Green Man, Earth Angel, we are currently living-out the consequences of three great crises: a rupture between the individual and the Divine, a severing of the felt connection between human beings and the living earth, and a profound breakdown of long-held assumptions about the nature and function of language.
The excursion into spirit must always return to a grounded soul in order to be connected with sensuous reality, and it is through speech and song—the primordial technologies of the soul—that this return continually occurs, embodying spirit without collapsing it into matter. The language of poetry is as close as we can get to the language of the angels. It is a language of images, of imagination. And imagination is central in helping us understand and navigate the imaginal realm. This realm is the gulf that lies between the senses and the intellect—the place of the Prophets, the mystics, the shaman’s visionary flight, the place of the burning bush. It is interior, but not subjective. Real, but not visible to all. It is the realm of the alchemical, the wonder-ful. It is the Earth of visions, Hurqalya.
According to Henry Corbin, Hurqalya is the world in which all spiritual events take place…though they do not ‘take place’ in the sense that events chronologically recorded to ‘make history’ take place because in Hurqalya, events transcend historical manifestations. The imaginal realm is the suprasensory dimension.
A case could be made that Frank Baum’s Oz was created as a reflection of this imaginal realm. Baum was known to be a Theosophist, and the 14 books comprising the Oz series are laden with esoteric Theosophy. One vibrant example: for the Theosophists, the ‘rainbow bridge’ leads to higher realms, and the seven rays of the rainbow correlate to the seven steps of initiation that one must master along the return to God. The Theosophists also had a system where each of the colored rays correlated to the seven chakras, or energy centers, in the human body.
Most Baum fans are familiar with the geographical landscape of the world of Oz; it is surrounded by a deadly desert of shifting sands. In the teachings of Theosophy, this is called the ‘ring-pass-not’ between the etheric and other dimensions. As Baum lay on his deathbed, his last words to his wife—“Now we can cross the shifting sands.”
Is the imaginal realm imaginary? No. Not at all. It is as vast and full as the entire Universe itself; it is the multi-verse itself…darkness et al. Though the Divine darkness found in Hurqalya is not a Darkness to be feared. It is the nihil a quo omnia fiunt, the Nothing from which all things derived—the Nothing superior to being and thought. Do not be afraid of that Darkness. That is where we all come from. That emptiness is also God.
This leads me to address the contingency of being—the experience behind the great question of metaphysics: “Why is there something instead of nothing?” What is typically lacking in the philosophies of the grand-daddy, Western metaphysical thinkers such as Heidegger & Nietzsche is the Godly breath of compassion which breathes life and sympathy into the world. This breath is the soul-substance of all living things. It is Divine love and energy itself—the Sufi’s God-song-love-poetry hidden in the human heart, yearning to ascend back to God. Both Heidegger & Nietzsche built philosophies denying the spirit’s need for transcendence of the human being. There is no ascent for Heidegger, no ascent for Nietzsche. According to them, and to most other Western-minded philosophers: we have appearances, we have things, we have subjective reality—but there is nothing except nothing behind all this. And not the Divine Nothing which is also God, but rather an enormous, gaping LACK. It is this belief that is ultimately responsible for the Godless emptiness and inhumanity of Heidegger and Nietzsche’s work. (Cheetham)
Moving Eastward, we find the core of Islamic philosophies regard the ta’wil of a text (or any subject or thing) as the spiritual exegenesis (interpretation) of that text, subject, or thing. Literally translated, ta’wil means: “to take something back to its source”, and it involves understanding on multiple levels simultaneously. It is a matter of harmonic perception, of hearing an identical sound (the same verse, the same hadith, or even an entire text) on several levels simultaneously. The Qur’an itself is said to contain seven levels of inner meaning… the highest which only God knows. And not every individual possesses the inner Hurqlyan ear which allows one to hear the richest resounding possible of any given text, nor can one be made to hear what one does not possess the ability to hear. Which leads to this question asked within the Qur’an: “Are they equal, those who know and those who know not?” (Qur’an 39:9)
Surely God does not judge us negatively for what we do not know, if there is no means at our disposal by which to overcome the ignorance, but that does not alter the reality that in order to be spiritually efficacious, our understanding and our actions must be based upon the truth.