Look within yourself a moment and ask who art thou?
From where doest thou comest, from which place,
What art thou?
Was ist der Menschen Leben, ein Bild der Gottheit.
What is the life of man, an image of the Godhead.
The concept of man as the pontiff, pontifex, or bridge between Heaven and earth, which is the traditional view of the anthrōpos, lies at the antipode of the modern conception of man1 which envisages him as the Promethean earthly creature who has rebelled against Heaven and tried to misappropriate the role of the Divinity for himself. Pontifical man, who, in the sense used here, is none other than traditional man, lives in a world which has both an Origin and a Center. He lives in full awareness of the Origin which contains his own perfection and whose primordial purity and wholeness he seeks to emulate, recapture, and transmit. He also lives on a circle of whose Center he is always aware and which he seeks to reach in his life, thought, and actions. Pontifical man is the reflection of the Center on the periphery and the echo of the Origin in later cycles of time and generations of history. He is the vicegerent of God (khalīfatallāh) on earth, to use the Islamic term,2 responsible to God for his actions, and the custodian and protector of the earth of which he is given dominion on the condition that he remain faithful to himself as the central terrestrial figure created in the “form of God,” a theomorphic being living in this world but created for eternity. Pontifical man3 is aware of his role as intermediary between Heaven and earth and his entelechy as lying beyond the terrestrial domain over which he is allowed to rule provided he remains aware of the transient nature of his own journey on earth. Such a man lives in awareness of a spiritual reality which transcends him and which yet is none other than his own inner nature and against which he cannot rebel, save by paying the price of separation from all that he is and all that he should wish to be. For such a man, life is impregnated with meaning and the universe peopled with creatures whom he can address as thou. He is aware that precisely because he is human there is both grandeur and danger connected with all that he does and thinks. His actions have an effect upon his own being beyond the limited spatio-temporal conditions in which such actions take place. He knows that somehow the bark which is to take him to the shore beyond after that fleeting journey which comprises his earthly life is constructed by what he does and how he lives while he is in the human state.
To be sure, the image of man as depicted in various traditions has not been identical. Some have emphasized the human state more than others and they have envisaged eschatological realities differently. But there is no doubt that all traditions are based on the central and dominant images of the Origin and the Center and see the final end of man in the state or reality which is other than this terrestrial life with which forgetful or fallen man identifies himself once he is cut off from revelation or religion that constantly hearken man back to the Origin and the Center.
Promethean man, on the contrary, is a creature of this world. He feels at home on earth, earth not considered as the virgin nature which is itself an echo of paradise, but as the artificial world created by Promethean man himself in order to make it possible for him to forget God and his own inner reality. Such a man envisages life as a big marketplace in which he is free to roam around and choose objects at will. Having lost the sense of the sacred, he is drowned in transience and impermanence and becomes a slave of his own lower nature, surrender to which he considers to be freedom. He follows passively the downward flow of the cycle of human history in which he takes pride by claiming that in doing so he has created his own destiny. But still being man, he has a nostalgia for the Sacred and the Eternal and thus turns to a thousand and one ways to satisfy this need, ways ranging from psychological novels to drug-induced mysticism.
He also becomes stifled by the prison of his own creation, wary of the destruction he has wrought upon the natural environment and the vilification of the urban setting in which he is forced to live. He seeks for solutions everywhere, even in teachings by which pontifical man, or traditional man, has lived over the ages. But these sources are not able to help him for he approaches even these truths as Promethean man. This recently born creature, who has succeeded in wreaking havoc upon the earth and practically upsetting the ecological balance of the natural order itself in only some five centuries,4 is little aware that to overcome the impasse into which modern man has thrown himself as a result of attempting to forget what it really means to be man he must rediscover himself. He must come to understand the nature of man as that pontifical and central creature on this earth who stands as witness to an origin from which he descends and a center to which he ultimately returns. The traditional doctrine of man and not the measurement of skulls and footprints is the key for the understanding of that anthrōpos who, despite the rebellion of Promethean man against Heaven from the period of the Renaissance and its aftermath, is still the inner man of every man, the reality which no human being can deny wherever and whenever he lives, the imprint of a theomorphic nature which no historical change and transformation can erase completely from the face of that creature called man.
In recent decades many attempts have been made to trace the stages of the “disfiguration of the image of man in the West”5 beginning with the first stages of the Promethean revolt in the Renaissance, some of whose causes are to be seen already in the late Middle Ages, and terminating with the infrahuman condition into which modern man is being forced through a supposedly humanistic civilization. The tracing of this disfiguration could not in fact be anything other than the tracing of one facet of that process of the desacralization of knowledge and of life already outlined in the first part of this book. The decomposition and disfiguration, in the history of the West, of the image of man as being himself imago Dei, came into the open with that worldly humanism which characterizes the Renaissance and which is most directly reflected in its worldly art.6 But there are certain elements of earlier origin which also contributed to this sudden fall, usually interpreted as the age of the discovery of man at the moment when the hold of the Christian tradition upon Western man was beginning to weaken. One of the elements is the excessive separation between man as the seat of consciousness or the I and the cosmos as the “not-I” or a domain of reality from which man is alienated. This attitude was not unrelated to the excessive separation of the spirit from the flesh in official Christian theology even if this chasm was filled by the Hermetic tradition, especially its alchemical aspect, and affected even the daily life of the medieval community through the craft guilds. The “angelism” of medieval theology, although containing a profound truth, considered only one aspect of the traditional anthrōpos, allowing the rebellion against such a view by those who thought that in order to discover the spiritual significance of nature and the positive significance of the body, they had to deny the medieval concept of man. The Renaissance cult of the body, even if by some freak of history it had manifested itself in India, could not have been opposed to Hinduism in the same way that it was opposed to Christianity in the West.
The other elements which brought about the destruction of the image of pontifical man and helped the birth of that Promethean rebel with whom modern man usually identifies himself were mostly associated with the phenomena of the Renaissance itself and its aftermath or had their root in the late medieval period. These factors include the destruction of the unity and hierarchy of knowledge which resulted from the eclipse of the sapiential dimension of tradition in the West. From this event there resulted in turn the emptying of the sciences of nature of their esoteric content and their quantification, the rise of skepticism and agnosticism combined with a hatred of wisdom in its Christian form, and the loss of knowledge based upon certitude,7 which was itself the result of reducing Being to a mental concept and a denial of its unifying and sanctifying rays.
From an intellectual point of view the main stages in the process of the disfiguration of pontifical man into the Promethean can be traced to the late Middle Ages because they include the excessively rigid Aristotelianization of Western thought in the thirteenth century identified by some with Averroes. This “exteriorization” of Christian thought was followed by the secularization of the science of the cosmos in the seventeenth century, itself a result of the “naturalization” of Christian man as a well-contented citizen of this world. This period was in turn succeeded by the divinization of time and historical process associated in the nineteenth century with the name of Hegel and others who made of change and becoming the foundation of reality and the criterion of the truth itself. The development of Aristotelian philosophy and theology in a Christian mold was itself of course not antitraditional. It even provided a metaphysical language of great power and dogmatic assertions of remarkable depth. But, as already mentioned, it did exteriorize the process of knowledge. Furthermore, Averroism in the Western world, and in contrast to the Islamic world itself from which Averroes (Ibn Rushd) himself hailed, depleted the cosmos of its “soul,” helping the secularization of the cosmos which was also to affect deeply the destiny of Western man himself.8
The seventeenth-century scientific revolution not only mechanized the conception of the world but also of man, creating a world in which man found himself as an alien. Furthermore, the scientism which issued from this century and the apparent success of Newtonian physics led to the establishment of a whole series of so-called sciences of man which to this day emulate an already outmoded physics. The modern sciences of man were born in an atmosphere of positivism associated with a figure like Auguste Comte who simply reversed the traditional rapport between the study of Deus, homo, and natura in creating his famous three stage theory of human progress, which is based on the total misunderstanding of the nature of man and is a parody of traditional doctrines concerning human existence on earth.9 The Comptean science of man and his society can be only characterized as ignorance, or avidyā, characteristic of the Dark Age, parading as science. Despite the refutation of the mechanistic physics upon which most sciences of man are based today and strong criticism of the type of anthropology which sees in man no more than a mammal walking upright, most of those disciplines usually identified as the social sciences and even humanities still suffer from an inferiority complex vis-à-vis the natural sciences and mathematics which forces them to adopt a world view alien to the very nature of man.10
As for the Hegelian turning of permanence into change and dialectical process, it not only deprived man of the image of immutability which constitutes a basic feature of the traditional concept of man but it also played a major role in the humanization of the Divinity which was to lead to the final phase of the secularization of the life of modern man. Hegel “equated” man's finite consciousness with the Divine Infinite Consciousness. From his position there was but one step to Feurbach's assertion that man's awareness of Infinite Consciousness is nothing more than the consciousness of the Infinite within human consciousness itself. Instead of man being seen as the image of God, the relation was now reversed and God came to be regarded as the image of man and the projection of his own consciousness. Promethean man not only sought to steal fire from Heaven but even to kill the gods, little aware that man cannot destroy the image of the Divinity without destroying himself.
As far as the traditional doctrine of man is concerned, it is based in one way or another on the concept of primordial man as the source of perfection, the total and complete reflection of the Divinity and the archetypal reality containing the possibilities of cosmic existence itself. Man is the model of the universe because he is himself the reflection of those possibilities in the principial domain which manifest themselves as the world. Man is more than merely man so that this way of envisaging his rapport with respect to the cosmos is far from being anthropomorphic in the usual sense of this term. The world is not seen as the reflection of man qua man but of man as being himself the total and plenary reflection of all those Divine Qualities whose reflections, in scattered and segmented fashion, comprise the manifested order.
In traditions with a strongly mythical character this inward relationship between man and the cosmos is depicted in the myth of the sacrifice of the primordial man. For example, in the Iranian religions the sacrifice of the primordial man is associated with the creation of the world and its various orders and realms, different parts of the “body” of the primordial man being associated with different orders of creatures such as animals, plants, and minerals. Sometimes, however, a more particular relationship is emphasized as in those Zoroastrian sources where Gāyomart, who is the first man, is associated with the generation of the minerals, for as the Greater Bundahisën says, “When Gāyomart was assailed with sickness, he fell on his left side. From his head lead came forth, from his blood zinc, from his marrow silver, from his feet iron, from his bones brass, from his fat crystal, from his arms steel, and from his soul as it departed, gold.”11 In Hinduism there is the famous passage in the Ṛg-Veda (X, 90) according to which, from the sacrifice of Puruṣa or primordial man, the world and the human race consisting of the four castes are brought into being, the brahmins from his mouth, the rājanyas or kṣatriyas from his arms, the vaiśyas from his belly, and the śūdras from his feet, his sacrifice, or yājnîas, being the model of all sacrifice.12 Primordial man is the archetype of creation as he is its purpose and entelechy. That is why according to a ḥadīth, God addresses the Prophet of Islam, whose inner reality is the primordial man par excellence in the Islamic tradition, in these terms, “If thou wert not, I would not have created the world.”13 This perspective envisages the human reality in its divine and cosmic dimensions in exact opposition to philosophical anthropomorphism. Man does not see God and the world in his image but realizes that he is himself in his inner reality that image which reflects the Divine Qualities and by which cosmic reality is created, the possibilities being contained in the Logos “by which all things were made.”
The metaphysical doctrine of man in the fullness of his being, in what he is, but not necessarily what he appears to be, is expounded in various languages in the different traditions with diverse degrees of emphasis which are far from being negligible. Some traditions are based more upon the divinized human receptacle while others reject this perspective in favor of the Divinity in Itself. Some depict man in his state of fall from his primordial perfection and address their message to this fallen creature, whereas others, while being fully aware that the humanity they are addressing is not the society of perfect men living in paradise, address that primordial nature which still survives in man despite the layers of “forgetfulness”14 and imperfection which separate man from himself.
That primordial and plenary nature of man which Islam calls the “Universal or Perfect Man” (al-insājn al-kājmil)15 and to which the sapiential doctrines of Graeco-Alexandrian antiquity also allude in nearly the same terms, except for the Abrahamic and specifically Islamic aspects of the doctrines absent from the Neoplatonic and Hermetic sources, reveals human reality to possess three fundamental aspects. The Universal Man, whose reality is realized only by the prophets and great seers since only they are human in the full sense of the word, is first of all the archetypal reality of the universe; second, the instrument or means whereby revelation descends into the world; and third, the perfect model for the spiritual life and the ultimate dispenser of esoteric knowledge. By virtue of the reality of the Universal Man, terrestrial man is able to gain access to revelation and tradition, hence to the sacred. Finally, through this reality which is none other than man's own reality actualized, man is able to follow that path of perfection which will finally allow him to gain knowledge of the sacred and to become fully himself. The saying of the Delphic oracle, “Know thyself,” or that of the Prophet of Islam, “He who knoweth himself knoweth his lord,” is true not because man as an earthly creature is the measure of all things but because man is himself the reflection of that archetypal reality which is the measure of all things. That is why in traditional sciences of man the knowledge of the cosmos and the metacosmic reality are usually not expounded in terms of the reality of terrestrial man. Rather, the knowledge of man is expounded through and in reference to the macrocosm and metacosm, since they reflect in a blinding fashion and in an objective mode what man is if only he were to become what he really is. The traditional doctrine of Primordial or Universal Man with all its variations—Adam Kadmon, Jen, Puruṣa, al-insān al-kāmil, and the like—embraces at once the metaphysical, cosmogonic, revelatory, and initiatic functions of that reality which constitutes the totality of the human state and which places before man both the grandeur of what he can be and the pettiness and wretchedness of what he is in most cases, in comparison with the ideal which he carries always within himself. Terrestrial man is nothing more than the externalization, coagulation, and often inversion and perversion of this idea and ideal of the Universal Man cast in the direction of the periphery. He is a being caught in the field of the centrifugal forces which characterize terrestrial existence as such, but is also constantly attracted by the Center where the inner man is always present.16
It is also by virtue of carrying this reality within himself and bearing the characteristics of a theomorphic being, because he is such a being in his essential reality, that man remains an axial creature in this world. Even his denial of the sacred has a cosmic significance, his purely empirical and earthly science going to the extent of imposing the danger of destroying the harmony of the terrestrial environment itself.17 Man cannot live as a purely earthly creature totally at home in this world without destroying the natural environment precisely because he is not such a creature. The pontifical function of man remains inseparable from his reality, from what he is. That is why traditional teachings envisage the happiness of man in his remaining aware and living according to his pontifical nature as the bridge between Heaven and earth. His religious laws and rites have a cosmic function18 and he is made aware that it is impossible for him to evade his responsibility as a creature who lives on the earth but is not only earthly, as a being strung between Heaven and earth, of both a spiritual and material mold, created to reflect the light of the Divine Empyrean within the world and to preserve harmony in the world through the dispensation of that light and the practice of that form of life which is in accordance with his inner reality as revealed by tradition.19 Man's responsibility to society, the cosmos, and God issues ultimately from himself, not his self as ego but the inner man who is the mirror and reflection of the Supreme Self, the Ultimate Reality which can be envisaged as either pure Subject or pure Object since It transcends in Itself all dualities, being neither subject nor object.
The situation of man as bridge between Heaven and earth is reflected in all of his being and his faculties. Man is himself a supernaturally natural being. When he walks on the earth, on the one hand he appears as a creature of the earth; on the other, it is as if he were a celestial being who has descended upon the earthly realm.20 Likewise, his memory, speech, and imagination partake at once of several orders of reality. Most of all his intelligence is a supernaturally natural faculty, a sacrament partaking of all that the term supernatural signifies in Christianity, yet functioning quasi-naturally within him with the help of revelation and its unifying grace. That is why, while even in this world, man is able to move to the other shore of existence, to take his stance in the world of the sacred and to see nature herself as impregnated with grace. He is able to remove that sharp boundary which has been drawn between the natural and the supernatural in most schools of official Christian theology but which is not emphasized in the same manner in other traditions and is also overcome in the sapiential aspects of the Christian tradition itself.
Metaphysically speaking then, man has his archetype in that primordial, perfect, and universal being or man who is the mirror of the Divine Qualities and Names and the prototype of creation. But each human being also possesses his own archetype and has a reality in divinis as a possibility unto himself, one which is unique since that person reflects the archetype of the human species as such in the same way that every point on the circumference of a circle reflects the center and is yet distinct from other points. The reality of man as a species as well as of each human being has its root in the principial domain. Therefore man as such, as well as each human being, comes into the world through an “elaboration” and process which separates him from the Divine and departs from the world through paths, which in joy or sorrow depending on his life on earth, finally lead him back to the Divine.
This “elaboration” concerning the genesis of man is expounded in one form or another in all sapiential teachings but not in exoteric religious formulations whose point of view is the immediate concern of man for his salvation, so that they leave aside certain doctrines or only allude to them in passing, while esoterism, being concerned with the truth as such, takes such questions into consideration as we see in the case of exoteric Judaism on the one hand and the Kabbala on the other. In the Christian West, especially in modern times when the esoteric and sapiential teachings had become much less accessible than before, the religious point of view seemed to assert only the doctrine of creation ex nihilo without further explanation of what ex nihilo might mean metaphysically as Ibn ‘Arabī, for example, had done for the term al-‘adam which is the Quranic term used for creation “from nothing.”21
As a result, many nineteenth-century thinkers felt that they had to choose between either the creationist view or the Darwinian theory of evolution and naturally chose the latter as appearing more “plausible” in a world which had forfeited the view of permanence and immutability to that of constant change, process, and becoming and where the higher states of existence had lost their reality for those affected by the leveling process of modern thought. Even today, certain scientists who realize the logical and even biological absurdity of the theory of evolution and some of its implications and presuppositions believe that the only other alternative is the ex nihilo doctrine, unaware that the traditional metaphysical doctrine interprets the ex nihilo statement as implying an elaboration of man's being in divinis and through stages of being preceding his appearance on earth. This doctrine of man, based on his descent through various levels of existence above the corporeal, in fact presents a view of the appearance of man which is neither illogical nor at all in disagreement with any scientific facts—and of course not necessarily hypotheses and extrapolations—provided one accepts the hierarchy of existence, or the multiple levels of reality which surround the corporeal state. As we shall see in our later discussion of the theory of evolution, the whole modern evolutionary theory is a desperate attempt to substitute a set of horizontal, material causes in a unidimensional world to explain effects whose causes belong to other levels of reality, to the vertical dimensions of existence.
The genesis of man, according to all traditions, occurred in many stages: first, in the Divinity Itself so that there is an uncreated “aspect” to man. That is why man can experience annihilation in God and subsistence in Him (the al-fanā' and al-baqā' of Sufism) and achieve supreme union. Then man is born in the Logos which is in fact the prototype of man and another face of that same reality which the Muslims call the Universal Man and which each tradition identifies with its founder. Next, man is created on the cosmic level and what the Bible refers to as the celestial paradise, where he is dressed with a luminous body in conformity with the paradisal state. He then descends to the level of the terrestrial paradise and is given yet another body of an ethereal and incorruptible nature. Finally, he is born into the physical world with a body which perishes but which has its principle in the subtle and luminous bodies belonging to the earlier stages of the elaboration of man and his genesis before his appearance on earth.22
Likewise, the Quran speaks of man's pre-eternal (azalī) covenant with God when he answered God's call, “Am I not your Lord?” with the affirmative, “Yea,”23 the “Am I not your Lord?” (alastu birabbikum) symbolizing the relation between God and man before creation and so becoming a constantly repeated refrain for all those sages in Islam who have hearkened man to his eternal reality in divinis by reminding him of the asrār-i alast or the mysteries of this preeternal covenant. This reminding or unveiling, moreover, has always involved the doctrine of the elaboration of man through various states of being. When Ḥāfiẓ, in his famous poem,
Last night [dūsh] I saw that the angels beat at the door
of the Tavern
The clay of Adam, they shaved and with the mold of love
speaks of dūsh or “dark night” preceding the morning light, he is alluding symbolically to that unmanifested state where the primordial substance of man was being molded in the Divine Presence preceding the day of manifestation and his descent on earth; but even this substance molded by the angels was itself an elaboration and descent of man from his uncreated reality in divinis.
It is remarkable that, while traditional teachings are aware that other creatures preceded man on earth, they believe that man precedes them in the principial order and that his appearance on earth is the result of a descent not an ascent, Man precipitates on earth from the subtle state appearing out of the cloud or on a chariot as described in various traditional accounts, this “cloud” symbolizing the intermediary condition between the subtle and the physical. He appears on earth already as a central and total being, reflecting the Absolute not only in his spiritual and mental faculties but even in his body. If Promethean man finally lost sight completely of the higher levels of existence and was forced to take recourse in some kind of mysterious temporal process called evolution which would bring him out of the primordial soup of molecules envisaged by modern science, pontifical man has always seen himself as the descent of a reality which has been elaborated through many worlds to arrive on earth in a completed form as the central and theomorphic being that he is. From his point of view as a being conscious of not only earthly, horizontal causes but also Heaven and the vertical dimension of existence and chains of causes, the monkey is not what man had once been and is no longer, but what he could never be precisely because of what he always is and has been. Pontifical man has always been man, and the traditional perspective which is his views the presence of the monkey as a cosmic sign, a creature whose significance is to display what the central human state excludes by its very centrality. To study the state of the monkey metaphysically and not just biologically is to grasp what man is not and could have never been.
Traditional sciences of man have spoken at length about the inner structure and faculties of man as well as the significance of his body and its powers. One discovers in such sources the repeated assertion that man has access to multiple levels of existence and consciousness within himself and a hierarchy of faculties and even “substances” which in any case cannot be reduced to the two entities of body and soul or mind and body, reflecting the dualism so prevalent in post-Cartesian Western thought. This dualism neglects the essential unity of the human microcosm precisely because duality implies opposition and, in contrast to trinity, is not a reflection of Unity. On the first level of understanding the human microcosm, therefore, one must take into consideration the tripartite nature of the human being consisting of spirit, soul, and body—the classical pneuma, psychē, and hylē or spiritus, anima, and corpus of Western traditions both Graeco-Alexandrian and Christian—at least as far as Christian Hermeticism is concerned. The soul is the principle of the body, but in the “normal” human being is itself subservient to the spirit and reaches its salvation and beatitude through its wedding to the spirit of which so many alchemical texts speak.25
This tripartite division, however, is a simplification of a more complex situation. Actually man contains within himself many levels of existence and layers. Such traditions as Tantrism and certain schools of Sufism as well as Western Hermeticism speak not of body as opposed to soul and spirit but of several bodies of man of which the physical body is only the most outward and externalized envelope. Man possesses subtle as well as spiritual bodies in conformity with the different worlds through which he journeys. There is, moreover, an inversion between various levels of existence so that man's soul (used here in the general sense of all that is immaterial in his being), molded in this world by his actions, becomes externalized in the intermediate world as his “body.” It is in reference to this principle that the Imams of Shfism, referring to the posthumous states of man and especially the “perfect man” represented by the Imams, have declared, “Arwāḥunā ajsādunā wa ajsādunā arwāḥunā” (Our spirits are our bodies and our bodies are our spirits).26 The sojourn of man through the levels of existence and forms, which the popular interpretation of Indian religions identifies with a return to the same level of reality and the esoteric dimension of the Abrahamic traditions with multiple levels of reality,27 corresponds to his journey within himself and through all the layers of his own being.
Man possesses an incorruptible ethereal body as well as a radiant spiritual body corresponding to the other “earths” of the higher states of being. In the same way that to speak of body and soul corresponds to the perspective of heaven or several heavens and earth, to envisage the several bodies of man corresponds to seeing the higher levels of reality as each possessing its own heaven and earth. After all, through the grace of the Amidha Buddha man is born in the “Pure Land” and not “pure heaven,” but here the symbolism of land includes the paradisal and heavenly.28 It is the celestial earth to which also Islamic esoterism refers often, and which played such an important role in Zoroastrianism, where the earth itself was conceived as having been originally an angel.29
The various “bodies” of the inner man have been envisaged in very different terms in different traditions but everywhere they are related to the realization of sacred knowledge and the attainment of virtue. The beauty of man's physical body is God-given and not for him to determine. But the type of “body” attained either in the posthumous state or through initiatic practices and ways of realization depends upon how man spends that precious gift which is human life, for once this life comes to an end the door, which is open toward the Infinite, closes. Only man can pass through the door while enjoying possibilities of the human state. It makes literally all the difference in the world whether man does pass through that door while he has the possibility or not.30
In any case, as far as the positive and not negative and infernal possibilities are concerned, the various bodies of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas mentioned in northern schools of Buddhism and so central to Buddhist eschatology and techniques of meditation, the Hindu chakras as centers of the subtle bodies and energies, the ōkhēma symphyēs (“psychic vehicle”) of Proclus or the laṭā'if or subtle bodies of Sufism, all refer to the immense reality unto which the human microcosm opens if only man were to cease to live on the surface of his being. Certain schools also speak of the man of light and the whole anatomy and physiology of the inner man, which is not the subject of study of modern biology but which, nevertheless, affects the human body, the physical body itself reflecting the Absolute on its own level and possessing a positive nature of great import for the understanding of the total nature of man.31
The human body is not the seat of concupiscence but only its instrument. Although asceticism is a necessary element of every authentic spiritual path, for there is something in the soul that must die before it can reach perfection, the body itself is the temple of God. It is the sacred precinct in which the Divine Presence or the Divine Light32 manifests itself as asserted not only in the Oriental religions but also in Hesychasm within Orthodox Christianity where the keeping of the mind within the body and the Divine Name within the center of the body, which is the heart, plays a crucial role. This perspective is also to be found in Christian Hermeticism but has not been greatly emphasized in Western Christian theology.33
The human body consists of three basic elements: the head, the body, and the heart. The heart, which is the invisible center of both the subtle and the physical body, is the seat of intelligence and the point which relates the terrestrial human state to the higher states of being. In the heart, knowledge and being meet and are one. The head and the body are like projections of the heart: the head, whose activity is associated with the mind, is the projection of the intelligence of the heart and the body the projection of being. This separation already marks the segmentation and externalization of man. But the compartmentalization is not complete. There is an element of being in the mind and of intelligence in the body which become forgotten to the extent that man becomes engrossed in the illusion of the Promethean mode of existence and forgets his theomorphic nature. That is why modern man, who is Promethean man to the extent that such a perversion of his own reality is possible, is the type of man most forgetful of the tranquility and peace of mind which reflects being and of the intelligence of the body. That is also why those contemporary men, in quest of the sacred and the rediscovery of pontifical man, seek, on the one hand, techniques of meditation which would allow the agitated mind to simply be and to overcome that excessive cerebral activity which characterizes modern man and, on the other hand, to rediscover the wisdom and intelligence of the body through yoga, Oriental forms of medicine, natural foods, and the like. Both attempts are in reality the quest for the heart which in the spiritual person, aware of his vocation as man, “penetrates” into both the head and the body, integrating them into the center, bestowing a contemplative perfume to mental activity and an intellectual and spiritual presence to the body which is reflected in its gestures and motions.34
In the prophet, the avatār, and the great saint both the face and the body directly manifest and display the presence of the heart through an inwardness which attracts toward the center and a radiance and emanation of grace which inebriates and unifies. For those not blessed by the vision of such beings, the sacred art of those traditions based on the iconography of the human form of the founder or outstanding spiritual figures of the tradition is at least a substitute and reminder of what a work of art man himself is. To behold a Japanese or Tibetan Buddha image, with eyes drawn inward toward the heart and the body radiating the presence of the Spirit which resides in the heart, is to grasp in a concrete fashion what the principial and ideal relation of the heart is to both the head and the body which preserve their own intelligible symbolism and even their own wisdom, whether a particular “mind” cut off from its own roots is aware of it or not.
The central and “absolute” nature of the human body is also to be seen in man's vertical position which directly reflects his role as the axis connecting heaven and earth. The clear distinction of his head protruding toward heaven reflects his quest for transcendence. The chest reflects glory and nobility, of a more rigorous nature in the male and generous in the female, and the sexual parts hierogenesis, divine activity whose terrestrial result is the procreation of another man or woman who miraculously enough is again not merely a biological being although outwardly brought into the world through biological means.35 From the perspective of scientia sacra the human body itself is proof that man has sprung from a celestial origin and that he was born for a goal beyond the confines of his animality. The definition of man as a central being is reflected not only in his mind, speech, and other internal faculties but also in his body which stands at the center of the circle of terrestrial existence and possesses a beauty and significance which is of a purely spiritual nature. The very body of man and woman reveals the destiny of the human being as a creature born for immortality, as a being whose perfection resides in ascending the vertical dimension of existence, having already reached the center of the horizontal dimension. Having reached the point of intersection of the cross,36 it is for man to ascend its vertical axis which is the only way for him to transcend himself and to remain fully human, for to be human is to go beyond oneself. As Saint Augustine has said, to remain human, man must become superhuman.
Man also possesses numerous internal faculties, a memory much more prestigious than those who are the product of modern education can envisage37 and one which plays a very positive role in both intellectual and artistic activity of traditional man. He possesses an imagination which, far from being mere fantasy, has the power to create forms corresponding to cosmic realities and to play a central role in religious and even intellectual life, far more than can be conceived by the modern world whose impoverished view of reality excludes the whole domain of what might be called the imaginal, to distinguish it from the imaginary.38 Man also possesses that miraculous gift of speech through which he is able to exteriorize the knowledge of both the heart and the mind. His speech is the direct reflection and consequence of his theomorphic nature and the Logos which shines at the center of his being. It is through his speech that he is able to formulate the Word of God and it is also through his speech in the form of prayer and finally the quintessential prayer of the heart which is inner speech and silent invocation that he himself becomes prayer. Man realizes his full pontifical nature in that theophanic prayer of Universal Man in which the whole creation, both Heaven and earth, participate.
From the point of view of his powers and faculty man can be said to possess essentially three powers or poles which determine his life, these being intelligence, sentiment, and will. As a theomorphic being he possesses or can possess that absolute and unconditioned intelligence which can know the truth as such; sentiments which are capable of going beyond the limited conditions of man and of reaching out for the ultimate through love, suffering, sacrifice, and also fear;39 and a will which is free to choose and which reflects the Divine Freedom.
Because of man's separation from his original perfection and all the ambivalence that the human condition involves as a result of what Christianity calls the fall, none of these powers function necessarily and automatically according to man's theomorphic nature. The fall of man upon the earth, like the descent of a symbol from a higher plane of reality, means both reflection and inversion which in the case of man leads to perversion. Intelligence can become reduced to mental play; sentiments can deteriorate to little more than gravitation around that illusory coagulation which we usually call ourselves but which is only the ego in its negative sense as comprising the knots of the soul; and the will can be debased to nothing other than the urge to do that which removes man from the source of his own being, from his own real self. But these powers, when governed by tradition and imbued with the power of the light and grace which emanates from revelation, begin to reveal, like man's body, dimensions of his theomorphic nature. The body, however, remains more innocent and true to the form in which God created it, whereas the perversion of man and his deviation from his Divine Prototype is manifested directly in this intermediate realm with which man identifies himself, namely, the realm of the will and the sentiments and even the mental reflection of the intelligence, if not the intelligence itself. In the normal situation which is that of pontifical man, the goal of all three human powers or faculties, that is, intelligence, the sentiments, and will, is God. Moreover, in the sapiential perspective both the sentiments and the will are related to intelligence and impregnated by it, for how can one love without knowing what one loves and how can one will something without some knowledge at least of what one wills?
The understanding of the reality of man as anthrōpos can be achieved more fully by also casting an eye upon the segmentations and divisions of various kinds which characterize mankind as such. The original anthrōpos was, according to traditional teachings, an androgynic figure although some traditions speak of both a male and a female being whose union is then seen as the perfection identified with the androgynic state.40 In either case, the wholeness and perfection inherent in the human state and the bliss which is associated with sexual union belong in reality to the androgynic state before the sexes were separated. But the dualities which characterize the created order and which manifest themselves on all levels of existence below the principial, such as yin-yang, puruṣa-prakṛti, activity and passivity, form and matter, could not but appear upon the plane of that androgynic reality and give birth to the male and the female which do not, however, correspond to pure yin and pure yang. Since they are creatures they must contain both principles within themselves with one of the elements of the duality predominating in each case. The male and the female in their complementarity recreate the unity of the androgynic being and in fact sexual union is an earthly reflection of that paradisal ecstasy which belonged to the androgynic anthrōpos. But that androgynic reality is also reflected in both man and woman in themselves, hence both the sense of complementarity and rivalry which characterizes the relation between the sexes. In any case the distinction between the male and female is not only biological. It is not even only psychological or spiritual. It has its roots in the Divine Nature Itself, man reflecting more the Absoluteness of the Divine and the woman Its Infinitude. If the face of God towards the world is envisaged in masculine terms, His inner Infinitude is symbolized by the feminine as are His Mercy and Wisdom.41 Human sexuality, far from being a terrestrial accident, reflects principles which are ultimately of a metacosmic significance. It is not without reason that sexuality is the only means open for human beings, not endowed with the gift of spiritual vision, to experience “the Infinite” through the senses, albeit for a few fleeting moments, and that sexuality leaves such a profound mark upon the soul of men and women and affects them in a manner far more enduring than other physical acts. To understand the nature of the male-female distinction in the human race and to appreciate the positive qualities which each sex displays is to gain greater insight into the nature of that androgynic being whose reality both the male and female carry at the center of their being.42
Man is not only divided according to sex but also temperament of which both sexes partake. The four temperaments of traditional Galenic medicine which have their counterparts in other schools of traditional medicine concern not only the physical body but also the psychic substance and in fact all the faculties which comprise what we call the soul. They affect not only the sentiments but also the will and even the modes of operation of intelligence which in themselves remain above the temperamental modifications. The same could be said of the three guṇas of Hindu cosmology, those fundamental tendencies in the primary substance of the universe, or prakṛti, which concern not only the physical realm but also human types.43 One can say that human beings are differentiated through the dual principles of yin-yang; the three guṇas, which are sattva, the ascending, raja, the expansive, and tamas, the descending tendencies; and the temperaments which have a close correlation with the four natures, elements, and humors as expounded in various cosmological schemes.44
Human types can also be divided astrologically, here astrology being understood in its cosmological and symbolic rather than its predictive sense.45 Astrological classifications, which are in fact related to traditional medical and physical typologies, concern the cosmic correspondences of the various aspects of the human soul and unveil the refraction of the archetype of man in the cosmic mirror in such a way as to bring out the diversity of this refraction with reference to the qualities associated with the zodiacal signs and the planets. Traditional astrology, in a sense, concerns man on the angelic level of his being but also unveils, if understood in its symbolic significance, a typology of man which reveals yet another facet of the differentiation of the human species. The correspondence between various parts of the body as well as man's mental powers to astrological signs and the intricate rapport created between the motion of the heavens, various “aspects” and relations between planets and human activity are also a means of portraying the inward link that binds man as the microcosm to the cosmos.
Mankind is also divided into castes and races, both of which must be understood in their essential reality and without the pejorative connotations which have become associated with them in the modern world. The division of humanity into castes does not necessarily mean immutable social stratification for there have been strictly traditional societies, such as the Islamic, where caste has not existed as a social institution in the same way it was found in ancient Persia or in India. The traditional science of man sees the concept of caste as a key for the understanding of human types. There are those who are contemplative by nature and drawn to the quest of knowledge, who have a sacerdotal nature and in normal times usually fulfill the priestly and intellectual functions in their society. There are those who are warriors and leaders of men, who possess the courage to fight for the truth and to protect the world in which they live, who are ready to sacrifice themselves in battle as the person with a sacerdotal nature sacrifices himself in prayer to the Divinity. Members of this second caste have a knightly function and in normal times would be the political leaders and warriors. Then there are those given to trade, to making an honest living and working hard to sustain and support themselves and those around them. They have a mercantile nature and in traditional societies comprise those who carry out the business and economic functions of normal society. Finally, there are those whose virtue is to follow and to be led, to work according to the dictates of those who lead them. These castes which Hinduism identifies as the brahman, kṣatriya, vaiśya, and śūdra are not necessarily identified with birth in all societies.46 In any case, as far as the study of human types is concerned, they are to be found everywhere in all times and climes wherever men and women live and die. They represent fundamental human types complementing the tripartite Neoplatonic division of human beings into the pneumatics, psychics, and “hylics” (the hylikoi of the Neoplatonists). To understand the deeper significance of caste is to gain an insight into a profound aspect of human nature in whatever environment man might function and live.47
Finally, it is obvious that human beings are divided into racial and ethnic types. There are four races, the yellow, the red, the black, and the white, which like the four castes act as the pillars of the human collectivity, four symbolizing stability and being associated with the earth itself with its four cardinal directions and the four elements of which the physical world is composed. Each race is an aspect of that androgynic reality and possesses its own positive features. In fact, no one race can exhaust the reality of the human state, including human beauty which each race, both its male and female members, reflect in a different fashion. The very plenitude of the Divine Principle and richness of the reality of the Universal Man, who is the theater for the theophany of all the Divine Names and Qualities, requires this multiplicity of races and ethnic groups which in their unbelievable variety manifest the different aspects of their prototype and which together give some idea of the grandeur and beauty of that first creation of God which was the human reality as such, that primordial reflection of the face of the Beloved in the mirror of nothingness.
The division of mankind into male and female, the various temperamental types, astrological divisions of human beings, different natures according to caste, various racial types, and many other factors along with the interpenetration of these modes of perceiving the human state, reveal something of the immense complexity of that creature called man. But as analysis leads in turn to synthesis, this bewildering array of types all return to that primordial reality of the anthrōpos which each human being reflects in himself or herself. To be human is to be human wherever and whenever one may live. There is therefore a profound unity of traditional mankind which only the traditional science of man can comprehend without reducing this unity to a uniformity and a gross quantitative equality that characterizes so much of the modern concern for man and the study of the human state.
Through all these differences of types, tradition detects the presence of that pontifical man born to know the Absolute and to live according to the will of Heaven. But tradition is also fully aware of the ambivalence of the human state, of the fact that men do not live on the level of what they are in principle, but below themselves, and of the imperfection of all that participates in what is characteristically human. This trait includes even those direct manifestations of the Absolute in the relative which comprise religion with revelation at its heart. Man is such a being that he can become prophet and spokesman for the Word of God, not to speak of the possibility of the divinized man which certain traditions like Islam, based on the Absolute itself, reject. But even in these cases there is a human margin and within each religion there exists an element of pure, unqualified Truth and a margin which already belongs to the region where the Truth penetrates into the human substance.48 Moreover, revelation is always given in the language of the people to whom God addresses Himself. As the Quran says, “And We never sent a messenger save with the language of his folk that he might make [the message] clear for them.”49 Hence the multiplicity of religions in a world with multiple “humanities.” The human state therefore gives a certain particularity to various revelations of the Truth while the heart of these revelations remains above all form. In fact, man himself is able to penetrate into that formless Essence through his intelligence sanctified by that revelation and even come to know that the formless Truth is modified by the form of the recipient according to the Divine Wisdom and Will, God having Himself created that recipient which receives His revelation in different climes and settings.50
How strange it appears that agnostic humanism, which remains content with the vessel without realizing the origin of the divine elixir that the human vessel contains, should be only a half-way house to that which is inhuman! Pontifical man has lived on the earth for millennia and continues to survive here and there despite the onslaught of modernism. But the life of Promethean man has been indeed short-lived. The kind of humanism associated with the Promethean revolt of the Renaissance has led in only a few centuries to the veritably infrahuman which threatens not only the human quality of life but the very existence of man on earth. The reason for such a phenomenon, which seems so unexpected from the perspective of Promethean man, is quite obvious from the traditional point of view. It lies in the fact that to speak of the human is to speak, at the same time, of the Divine. Although scholars occasionally discuss what they call Chinese or Islamic humanism, there has in fact never been a humanism in any traditional civilization similar to the one associated with the European Renaissance and what followed upon its wake. Traditional civilizations have spoken of man and of course created cultures and disciplines called the humanities of the highest order but the man they have spoken of has never ceased to be that pontifical man who stands on the axis joining Heaven and earth and who bears the imprint of the Divine upon his very being.
It is this basic nature of man which makes a secular and agnostic humanism impossible. It is not metaphysically possible to kill the gods and seek to efface the imprint of the Divinity upon man without destroying man himself; the bitter experience of the modern world stands as overwhelming evidence to this truth. The face which God has turned toward the cosmos and man (the wajhallāh of the Quran)51 is none other than the face of man toward the Divinity and in fact the human face itself. One cannot “efface” the “face of God” without “effacing” man himself and reducing him to a faceless entity lost in an anthill. The cry of Nietzsche that “God is dead” could not but mean that “man is dead” as the history of the twentieth century has succeeded in demonstrating in so many ways. But in reality the response to Nietzsche was not the death of man as such but of the Promethean man who had thought he could live on a circle without a center. The other man, the pontifical man, although forgotten in the modern world, continues to live even within those human beings who pride themselves in having outgrown the models and modes of thought of their ancestors; he continues to live and will never die.
That man who remains man and continues to survive here and there even during this period of eclipse of spirituality and the desacralization of life is the being who remains aware of his destiny which is transcendence and the function of his intelligence which is knowledge of the Absolute. He is fully aware of the preciousness of human life, which alone permits a creature living in this world to journey beyond the cosmos, and is always conscious of the great responsibility which such an opportunity entails. He knows that the grandeur of man does not lie in his cunning cleverness or titanic creations but resides most of all in the incredible power to empty himself of himself, to cease to exist in the initiatic sense, to participate in that state of spiritual poverty and emptiness which permits him to experience Ultimate Reality. As the Persian poet Sa‘di says,
Man reaches a stage where he sees nothing but God;
See how exalted is the station of manhood.52
Pontifical man stands at the perigee of an arc half of which represents the trajectory through which he has descended from the Source and his own archetype in divinis and the other half the arc of ascent which he must follow to return to that Source. The whole constitution of man reveals this role of the traveler who becomes what he “is” and is what he becomes. Man is fully man only when he realizes who he is and in doing so fulfills not only his own destiny and reaches his entelechy but also illuminates the world about him. Journeying from the earth to his celestial abode, which he has left inwardly, man becomes the channel of grace for the earth, and the bridge which joins it to Heaven. Realization of the truth by pontifical man is not only the goal and end of the human state but also the means whereby Heaven and earth are reunited in marriage, and the Unity, which is the Source of the cosmos and the harmony which pervades it, is reestablished. To be fully man is to rediscover that primordial Unity from which all the heavens and earths originate and yet from which nothing ever really departs.
By man is meant not the male alone but the human state whose archetypal reality is the androgyne reflected in both the male and female. Man in English signifies at once the male and the human being as such like the Greek anthrōpos, the German mensch or the Arabic insān. There is no need to torture the natural structure of the English language to satisfy current movements which consider the use of the term “man” as a sexist bias, forgetting the second meaning of the term as anthrōpos.
On the Islamic conception of man and the meaning of this term see G. Eaton, King of the Castle, chap. 5; G. Durand, Science de l'homme et tradition, Paris, 1979, esp. chap. 3, entitled “Homo proximi orientis: science de l'homme et Islam spirituel”; and Nasr, “Who is Man? The Perennial Answer of Islam,” in Needleman (ed.), The Sword of Gnosis, pp. 203–17.
See also “Man as Microcosm,” in T. Izutsu, A Comparative Study of the Key Philosophical Concepts in Sufism and Taoism—Ibn ‘Arabī and Lao-Tzū, Chuang-Tzū, Pt. 1, Tokyo, 1966, pp. 208ff., where the whole doctrine of the universal man (or khalīfah) as expounded in Ibn ‘Arabī's Fuṣūṣ al-ḥikam is elaborated with great clarity. In pts. 2 and 3 of this work the Taoist concept of man is likewise elucidated and finally compared in a masterly fashion with the Islamic.
Needless to say, the title of pontiff given to the Catholic pope symbolizes directly the central function of this office as the “bridge” between God and His church as well as between the church and the community of the faithful, but this more particular usage of the term does not invalidate the universal significance of the “pontifical” function of man as such.
Certain modern observers of the environmental crisis, who want at the same time to defend the misdeeds of modern man, seek to extrapolate the devastation of the planet to earlier periods of human history in order to decrease the burden of responsibility of modern man by including even goats to explain why the ecological balance is being destroyed. While one cannot deny the deforestation of certain areas or erosion of the soil during the Middle Ages or even earlier, there is no doubt that there is no comparison between the intensity, rapidity, or extent of destruction of the natural environment during the past few centuries and what occurred during the previous long periods of history when traditional man lived on the surface of the earth.
This is the title of a well-known essay of G. Durand. See his On the Disfiguration of the Image of Man in the West, Ipswich, U.K., 1976.
There is no doubt that there were many attempts to rediscover traditional teachings in the Renaissance esp. in the field of the traditional sciences. See J. F. Maillard, “Science sacrée et science profane dans la tradition ésotérique de la renaissance,” Cahiers de l'Université Saint Jean de Jérusalem, vol. I, Paris, 1974, pp. 111–26. But this fact cannot at all obliterate the truth that secularizing humanism and the rationalism connected with the notion of virtù, according to which man was able to command any situation rationally, characterize and dominate the Renaissance world view, especially as it concerns man. This conception of man based on an aggressive rationalism combined with skepticism was to enter the mainstream of European thought, both literary and scientific, through such figures as Montaigne and Galileo. On virtù and the concept of Renaissance man as “the rational artist in all things,” see A. C. Crombie, “Science and the Arts in the Renaissance: The Search for Truth and Certainty, Old and New,” History of Science, 18/42 (Dec. 1980): 233.
This hatred of wisdom has been combined, in what is characteristically modern philosophy, with a fear that God may somehow threaten the petty mental constructions which modern man has substituted for wisdom. “God, for the philosophic spirit, is an external menace to the human wisdom that man, deprived of Divine Intellect, contrives for himself.” Durand, op. cit., pp. 20–21.
On this process see S. H. Nasr, Man and Nature, chap. 2.
On the traditional criticism of Comte see R. Guénon, La Grande triade, Paris, 1980, chap. 20.
For a criticism of the positivism inherent in modern anthropology see Durand, “Hermetica ratio et science de l'homme,” in his Science de l'homme et tradition, pp. 174ff. See also the capital work of J. Servier, L'Homme et l'invisible, which, using scientific data, refutes nearly all the presumptions of modern anthropology.
Quoted in R. C. Zaehner, The Teachings of the Magi, London, 1956, p. 75; see also M. Molé, Le Problème zoroastrien et la tradition mazdéenne, Paris, 1963. The alchemical significance of this passage which relates the alchemical symbolism of metals to the inner or physiological aspect of the microcosm is evident. It is also of great significance to note that according to the Bundahisën, the form of Gāyomart was spherical as also asserted in Plato's Symposium concerning the form of the primordial man. This geometric symbolism indicated that just as all geometric figures and solids are generated by and contained in the circle and the sphere which are the primordial form in two and three dimensions, primordial man is the origin of all humanity and, in fact, cosmic existence and “comprehends,” in a metaphysical sense, all cosmic existence.
See also the various works of M. Eliade dealing with sacrifice and religious rites including Patterns in Comparative Religion, trans. R. Sheed, New York, 1958; Traité d'histoire des religion, Paris, 1964; and Gods, Goddesses, and the Myths of Creation, New York, 1967.
The Person (Puruṣa) has a thousand eyes, a thousand heads, a thousand feet:
Encompassing Earth on every side, he rules firmlye-stablished in the heart.
The Person, too, is all This, both what has been and what is to come…
With three parts the Person is above, but one part came-into-existence here:
Thence, he proceeded everywhere, regarding Earth and Heaven.
Of him was Nature born, from Nature Person born:
When born, he ranges Earth from East to West.
Whereas the Angels laid-out the sacrifice with the Person of their offering,…
From that sacrifice, when the offering was all accomplished, the Verses and Liturgies were born,
The Metres, and the Formulary born of it.
Therefrom were born horses, and whatso beasts have cutting teeth in both jaws.
Therefrom were born cows, and therefrom goats and sheep.
When they divided the Person, how-many-fold did they arrange him?
What was his mouth? What were his arms? How were his thighs and feet named?
The Priest was his mouth; of his arms was made the Ruler;
His thighs were the Merchant-folk; from his feet was born the Servant.
The Moon was born from his Intellect; the Sun from his eye.
Ṛg Veda, X, 90, trans. A. K. Coomaraswamy on the basis of the translation of N. Brown. See Coomaraswamy, The Vedas, Essays in Translation and Exegesis, London, 1976, pp. 69–71.
This is a specifically Islamic image, since Islam sees the cardinal sin of man in his forgetfulness (ghaflah) of who he is although he still carries his primordial nature (al-fiṭrah) within himself, the man as such to which in fact the Islamic message addresses itself. See Schuon, Understanding Islam, pp. 13–15.
The term al-insān al-kāmil was first used as a technical term by Ibn ‘Arabī although its reality constitutes the second Shahādah, Muḥammadun rasūlallāh, and of course was present from the beginning of the Quranic revelation. After Ibn ‘Arabī the doctrine was presented in a more systematic fashion by ‘Abd al-Karīm al-Jīlī in his al-Insān al-kāmil and also by ‘Azīz al-Dīn Nasafī in the work bearing the same name. See. T. Burckhardt, De l'homme universel; and M. Molé (ed.), ‘Azizoddin Nasafi, Le Livre de l'homme parfait (Kitāb al-insān al-kāmil), Tehran-Paris, 1962. A complete translation of the Jīlī work is being prepared in English by V. Danner for the Classics of Western Spirituality Series being published by the Paulist Press.
All traditions teach of the presence of more than one self within us, and we still speak of self-discipline which means that there must be a self which disciplines and another which is disciplined. Coomaraswamy has dealt with this theme in many of his writings, for example, “On the Indian Traditional Psychology, or Rather Pneumatology,” in Lipsey (ed.), Coomaraswamy 2: Selected Papers, Metaphysics, pp. 333ff.
On the traditional doctrine of the inner man see also V. Danner, “The Inner and Outer Man,” in Y. Ibish and P. Wilson (eds.), Traditional Modes of Contemplation and Action, Tehran, 1977, pp. 407–12.
The very fact that one of the species living on earth called man can destroy the natural environment is itself an indication that he is not simply an earthly creature and that his actions possess a cosmic dimension. This only proves, for those whose vision has not become atrophied by the limitations of modern thought, that man is more than a purely biological specimen with a somewhat larger brain than the other primates.
Both Jews and Muslims within the Abrahamic family of traditions and Hindus in quite another world believe that the practice of their rites and various aspects of their sacred law uphold the cosmos. In Hinduism the gradual decline of man and his natural environment through a cosmic cycle are explicitly associated with degrees of practice of the Law of Manu. The same correspondence between the practice of rites and the sustenance of the cosmic order is also emphasized in nearly every other tradition ranging from the Egyptian to the American Indian.
“Man is either Viceroy or else he is an animal that claims special rights by virtue of its cunning and the devouring efficiency of teeth sharpened by technological instruments, an animal whose time is up. If he is such an animal, then he has no rights—he is no more nor less than meat—and elephants and lions, rabbits and mice must in some dim recess of their being rejoice to see the usurper develop the means of his own total destruction. But if he is Viceroy, then all decay and all trouble in the created world that surrounds him is in some measure to be laid to his count.” Eaton, King of the Castle, p. 123.
By this assertion we do not mean that traditional man is only that half-angelic creature of a certain type of Christian piety who is alienated from nature. Traditional man who saw himself as custodian of nature nevertheless buried his dead and did not consider himself a purely natural being, although he lived in complete harmony with nature.
See Ibn ‘Arabī, The Wisdom of the Prophets (Fuṣūṣ al-Ḥikam), trans. from Arabic to French with notes by T. Burckhardt and trans. from French to English by A. Culme-Seymour, pp. 23 and 35; also Ibn al-‘Arabī, Bezels of Wisdom, chap. 2.
The genesis of man and his prenatal existence in various higher states of existence is expounded in great detail in Jewish esoterism. See L. Schaya, “La genèse de l'homme,” Études Traditionnelles, no. 456–57 (Avril–Septembre 1977): 94–131, where he discusses the birth, descent, loss of original purity, and the regaining of man's original state according to Jewish sources concluding that, “Né de Dieu, l'être humain est destiné, après ses multiples naissances et morts, à renaiître en Lui, en tant que Lui” (p. 131); and idem, The Universal Meaning of the Kabbalah, pp. 116ff. See also F. Warrain, La Théodicée de la Kabbale, Paris, 1949, pp. 73ff.; and G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, Jerusalem, 1941, lectures 6 and 7.
Quran VII; 172. On the significance of this verse see Nasr, Ideals and Realitites of Islam, pp. 41ff.
The Divan, trans. H. Wilberforce Clarke, vol. 1, Calcutta, 1891, p. 406.
Hermeticism as reflected in alchemical texts contains a most profound anthropology which is now attracting the attention of those Western anthropologists who have realized the inadequacies of the modern science bearing this name and are in search of a science which would deal with the anthrōpos, not the two-legged animal that modern, secularized man envisages him to be. On the wedding between the soul and the Spirit in alchemy see T. Burckhardt, Alchemy, chap. 17.
Ṣadr al-Dīn Shīrāzī and later Islamic metaphysicians have dealt extensively with eschatological questions centered around the doctrine of the subtle body and its relation with the soul as it is molded by human action to which this ḥadīth refers. See especially the commentary of Ṣadr al-Dīn Shīrāzī upon the Uṣūl al-kāfī of Kulayrī containing the sayings of the Imams and also his commentary upon Suhrawardī's Ḥikmat al-ishrāq. See Corbin, “Le Thème de la résurrection chez Mollâ Ṣadrâ Shîrâzî (1050/1640) commentateur de Sohrawardî (587/1191),” in Studies in Mysticism and Religion presented to Gershom G. Scholem, Jerusalem, 1968, pp. 71–115.
On the metaphysical interpretation of the popular Indian notion of transmigration see Coomaraswamy, “On the One and Only Transmigrant,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 44, supplement no. 3, and in Lipsey, Coomaraswamy, vol. 2.
One must also remember the meaning of “land” in the ancient Icelandic Land-Nāma-Bōk, which has been compared by Coomaraswamy in certain respects to the Ṛg-Veda. See his The Ṛg Veda as Land-Nāma-Bōk, in his The Vedas—Essays in Translation and Exegesis, pp. 117–59.
The Ṛg Veda itself (I, 108, 9 and X, 59, 4) refers to the three worlds as “earths.” Likewise, the Kabbalah speaks of not only the earthly paradise or “upper earth” (Tebel) but also of six other earths of a more fragmentary nature so that there are altogether seven earths as stated by the Zohar and the Sefer Yetsirah. See Schaya, The Universal Meaning of the Kabbalah, pp. 108–9.
See Corbin, Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth, trans. N. Pearson, Princeton, 1977, where these doctrines are fully expounded. Corbin even speaks of “geosophy” as a wisdom about the earth and a sacred knowledge of the earth, including the celestial earth totally distinct from what geography or geology is concerned with.
Traditional eschatologies, whose complex doctrines cannot be treated here, all assert that only in this life as a human being can one take advantage of the central state into which one is born and pass to the spiritual abode and that there is no guarantee that one will be born into a central state after death unless one has lived according to tradition and in conformity with the Divine Will.
The physiology of the “man of light” is developed within Islamic esoterism particularly in the Central Asiatic school associated with the name of Najmal-Dīn Kubrā. See Corbin, The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism, trans. N. Pearson, Boulder, Colo., and London, 1978; and idem, En Islam iranien, vol. 3. It is also developed fully in the Kabbala (for example, in the Zohar) as well as in the ancient Iranian religions which speak often of the cosmic dimensions of man in terms of light symbolism. See B. T. Anklesaria, Zand-Ākāsīh, Iranian or Greater Bundahisën, Bombay, 1956; and J. C. Coyajee, Cults and Legends of Ancient Iran and China, Bombay, 1963.
The title of one of Suhrawardī's most famous works is Hayākil al-nūr (The Temples of Light). The Arabic work haykal (pl. hayākil) here rendered as temple means also body; the title refers to the symbolism of the body as the temple in which is present the light of God.
There are of course exceptions not only in the medieval period in such figures as Dante but also in the later period in the writings of Paracelsus and even during the last century in the poetry of William Blake.
On the doctrine of the spiritual significance of the body in connection with the “subtle body” see G. R. S. Mead, The Doctrine of the Subtle Body in Western Tradition, London, 1919; and of more recent origin, C. W. Leadbeater, Man Visible and Invisible, Wheaton, Ill., 1969; and on a more popular level D. Tanseley, Subtle Body, Essence and Shadow, London, 1977.
One hardly need mention how important gesture is in traditional societies and how it is related to sacred symbols which manifest themselves in all facets of traditional civilizations including their art. The mudras in both Hinduism and Buddhism are a perfect example of the central role played by gesture.
On the heart, head, and body of man and their spiritual significance see Schuon, “The Ternary Aspect of the Human Microcosm,” Gnosis, Divine Wisdom, pp. 93–99.
See Schuon, Du Divin à l'humain, pt. 3.
The horizontal and vertical dimensions of the cross symbolize the Universal Man who contains all the possibilities of existence, both horizontal and vertical, within himself. See R. Guénon, Symbolism of the Cross.
Some interest has been taken in recent years on reviving the traditional doctrines concerning memory. See F. Yates, The Art of Memory, Chicago, 1966.
This is a term used first by Corbin in French to distinguish the positive role of the imagination from all the pejorative connotations connected with the word “imaginary.”
In recent years after three centuries of neglect, certain European philosophers and scholars have turned their attention to a serious reappraisal of the traditional teaching concerning the imagination. Among this group one must mention especially G. Durand who has established a center in Chambéry, France, named “Centre de recherche sur l'Imaginaire” for the study of the world of imagination. See his Les Structures anthropologiques de l'Imaginaire, Paris, 1979; also Corbin, Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabī, trans. R. Manheim, Princeton, 1969. See also R. L. Hart, Unfinished Man and the Imagination, New York, 1968.
For modern man the sentiment of fear has come to have only a negative significance as result of the loss of the sense of majesty and grandeur associated with the Divinity. In the traditional context, however, the Biblical saying, repeated by St. Paul and the Prophet of Islam, “the beginning of wisdom is the fear of God” (rd's al-ḥikmah makhāfatallāh), remains of permanent significance since it corresponds to the nature of things and the most urgent and real needs of man as a being created for immortality.
For example, in India while in Tantrism there is reference to the androgynic figure Ardhanārī; in the Śivite school the androgynic state is usually represented iconographically by the union of Śiva and Parvātī who are sometimes fused as one figure half male and half female, in which case Śiva is known as Ardhanārīśvara.
On the significance of the androgyne and some of the contemporary applications of the meaning of its symbol see E. Zolla, The Androgyne, Fusion of the Sexes, London, 1981; also K. Critchlow, The Soul as Sphere and Androgyne, Ipswich, U.K., 1980.
It is not accidental that in so many sacred languages these qualities possess a feminine form such as the Arabic raḥmah (“mercy”) and ḥikmah (“wisdom”).
The attempt by modern man to destroy the qualitative differences between the sexes in the name of some kind of egalitarianism is only a consequence of the further elongation of Promethean man from the archetypal reality of the human state and therefore an insensitivity to this precious qualitative difference between the sexes.
On the guṇas see Guénon, Man and His Becoming According to the Vedanta, chap. 4.
On their relation see Nasr, Islamic Science—An Illustrated Study, pp. 159ff.
For the traditional treatment of astrological human types see al-Bīrūnī Elements of Astrology, trans. W. Ramsey Wright, London, 1934; Burckhardt, The Mystical Astrology of Ibn ‘Arabī, London, 1977; R. Z. Zoller, The Lost Key to Prediction, New York, 1980; M. Gauguelin, The Cosmic Clocks, London, 1969; and J. A. West and J. G. Toonder, The Case for Astrology, London, 1970.
On the metaphysical significance of caste see Schuon, “Principle of Distinction in the Social Order,” in his Language of the Self, pp. 136ff.
It is possible for a human being to possess more than one caste characteristic, the most eminent example being of course the prophet-kings of the Abrahamic traditions who possessed both the sacerdotal and knightly natures in the most eminent degree, Melchizedik being the primal example of the union of these natures as well as spiritual and temporal authority.
See Schuon, “Understanding and Believing” and “The Human Margin,” in Needleman (ed.), The Sword of Gnosis, pp. 401ff.
Quran (XIV; 4–Pickthall translation).
We shall deal more extensively with this question in chap. 9.
In all traditions the significance of the “face” is emphasized since it bears the direct imprint of the Divine upon the human. In the Quran there are several references to the “face of God” which have become sources of meditation for many Muslim sages. See, for example, H. Corbin, “Face de Dieu et face de l'homme,” Eranos-Jahrbuch 36 (1968): 165–228, which deals mostly with the teachings of Qādī Sa‘īd Qummī, on the significance of the face of God in relation to the human face and all that determines the humanity of man.