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Chapter Four: Scientia Sacra

The Good Religion is Innate Wisdom: and the forms and virtues of Innate Wisdom are of the same stock as Innate Wisdom itself.


A fund of omniscience exists eternally in our heart.


Sientia sacra is none other than that sacred knowledge which lies at the heart of every revelation and is the center of that circle which encompasses and defines tradition. The first question which presents itself is, how is the attainment of such a knowledge possible? The answer of tradition is that the twin source of this knowledge is revelation and intellection or intellectual intuition which involves the illumination of the heart and the mind of man and the presence in him of knowledge of an immediate and direct nature which is tasted and experienced, the sapience which the Islamic tradition refers to as “presential knowledge” (al-‘ilm al-ḥuḍūrī).1 Man is able to know and this knowledge corresponds to some aspect of reality. Ultimately in fact, knowledge is knowledge of Absolute Reality and intelligence possesses this miraculous gift of being able to know that which is and all that partakes of being.2

Scientia sacra is not the fruit of human intelligence speculating upon or reasoning about the content of an inspiration or a spiritual experience which itself is not of an intellectual character. Rather, what is received through inspiration is itself of an intellectual nature; it is sacred knowledge. The human intelligence which perceives this message and receives this truth does not impose upon it the intellectual nature or content of a spiritual experience of a sapiential character. The knowledge contained in such an experience issues from the source of this experience which is the Intellect, the source of all sapience and the bestower of all principial knowledge, the Intellect which also modifies the human recipient that the Scholastics called the potential intellect. Here the medieval distinction between the active and passive or potential intellect3 can serve to elucidate the nature of this process of the illumination of the mind and to remove the error of seeing the sapiential and intellectual content of spiritual experience as being the result of the human mind meditating upon or reasoning about the content of such an experience, whereas spiritual experience on the highest level is itself of an intellectual and sapiential nature.

From another point of view, that of the Self which resides at the center of every self, the source of the scientia sacra revealed to man is the center and root of human intelligence itself since ultimately “knowledge of the Substance is the substance of knowledge,” or knowledge of the Origin and the Source is the Origin and Source of knowledge. The truth descends upon the mind like an eagle landing upon a mountain top or it gushes forth and inundates the mind like a deep well which has suddenly burst forth into a spring. In either case, the sapiential nature of what the human being receives through spiritual experience is not the result of man's mental faculty but issues from the nature of that experience itself. Man can know through intuition and revelation not because he is a thinking being who imposes the categories of his thought upon what he perceives but because knowledge is being. The nature of reality is none other than consciousness, which, needless to say, cannot be limited to only its individual human mode.

Of course not everyone is capable of intellection or of having intellectual intuition no more than everyone is capable of having faith in a particular religion. But the lack of possibility of intellection for everyone does not invalidate the reality of such a possibility any more than does the fact that many people are not able to have faith invalidate the reality of a religion. In any case for those who have the possibility of intellectual intuition there is the means to attain a knowledge of a sacred character that lies at the heart of that objective revelation which constitutes religion and also at the center of man's being. This microcosmic revelation makes possible access to that scientist sacra which contains the knowledge of the Real and the means of distinguishing between the Real and the illusory.

What we have designated as scientia sacra is none other than metaphysics if this term is understood correctly as the ultimate science of the Real. This term possesses certain unfortunate connotations because, first of all, the prefix meta does imply transcendence but not immanence and also it connotes a form of knowledge or science that comes after physics whereas metaphysics is the primary and fundamental science or wisdom which comes before and contains the principles of all the sciences.4 Second, the habit of considering metaphysics in the West as a branch of philosophy, even in those philosophical schools which have a metaphysical dimension, has been instrumental in reducing the significance of metaphysics to just mental activity rather than seeing it as a sacred science concerned with the nature of Reality and wed to methods for the realization of this knowledge, a science which embraces the whole of man's being.5 In Oriental languages such terms as prajnîa, jnîāna, ma‘rifah, or ḥiktnah connote the ultimate science of the Real without their being reduced to a branch of another form of knowledge known as philosophy or its equivalent. And it is in this traditional sense of jnîāna or ma‘rifah that metaphysics, or the “science of the Real,” can be considered as identical with scientia sacra.

If scientia sacra lies at the heart of each tradition and is not a purely human knowledge lying outside of the sacred precinct of the various traditions, then how can one speak of it without remaining bound within a single religious universe? The response to this question has led certain scholars and philosophers engaged in “comparative philosophy” in the context of East and West to speak of “meta-philosophy” and a meta-language which stands above and beyond the language of a particular tradition.6 From the traditional point of view, however, the language of metaphysics is inseparable from the content and meaning it expresses and bears the imprint of the message, this language having been developed by the metaphysicians and sages of various traditions over the ages. Each tradition possesses one or several “languages of discourse” suitable for metaphysical doctrines and there is no need whatsoever to create a meta-language or invent a new vocabulary today to deal with such matters, since the English language is heir to the Western tradition and the several perfectly suitable metaphysical languages of the West such as those of Platonism, Thomism, and the school of Palamite theology. Moreover, contemporary traditional authors have already resuscitated the symbolic and intellectual aspects of modern languages which have decayed in their symbolic and hierarchic aspects but which nevertheless contain metaphysical possibilities because of the very nature of human language.7 These authors have created a perfectly suitable language for the expression of scientia sacra drawing occasionally from such sacred languages as Sanskrit and Arabic for certain key concepts. In any case a meta-language to express a meta-philosophy in order to expound traditional metaphysics is totally unnecessary. The language needed has been already forged from existing European languages which, although reflecting the gradual degradation of thought from an intellectual point of view, have also preserved the possibility of revival precisely because of their inalienable link with the classical languages of the West and the traditional metaphysics expressed in them, and even in the earlier phases of the life of modern European languages.

If one were to ask what is metaphysics, the primary answer would be the science of the Real or, more specifically, the knowledge by means of which man is able to distinguish between the Real and the illusory and to know things in their essence or as they are, which means ultimately to know them in divinis.8 The knowledge of the Principle which is at once the absolute and infinite Reality is the heart of metaphysics while the distinction between levels of universal and cosmic existence, including both the macrocosm and the microcosm, are like its limbs. Metaphysics concerns not only the Principle in Itself and in its manifestations but also the principles of the various sciences of a cosmological order. At the heart of the traditional sciences of the cosmos, as well as traditional anthropology, psychology, and aesthetics stands the scientia sacra which contains the principles of these sciences while being primarily concerned with the knowledge of the Principle which is both sacred knowledge and knowledge of the sacred par excellence, since the Sacred as such is none other than the Principle.

The Principle is Reality in contrast to all that appears as real but which is not reality in the ultimate sense. The Principle is the Absolute compared to which all is relative. It is Infinite while all else is finite. The Principle is One and Unique while manifestation is multiplicity. It is the Supreme Substance compared to which all else is accident. It is the Essence to which all things are juxtaposed as form. It is at once Beyond Being and Being while the order of multiplicity is comprised of existents. It alone is while all else becomes, for It alone is eternal in the ultimate sense while all that is externalized partakes of change. It is the Origin but also the End, the alpha and the omega. It is Emptiness if the world is envisaged as fullness and Fullness if the relative is perceived in the light of its ontological poverty and essential nothingness.9 These are all manners of speaking of the Ultimate Reality which can be known but not by man as such. It can only be known through the sun of the Divine Self residing at the center of the human soul. But all these ways of describing or referring to the Principle possess meaning and are efficacious as points of reference and support for that knowledge of the Real that in its realized aspect always terminates in the Ineffable and in that silence which is the “reflection” or “shadow” of the nonmanifested aspect of the Principle upon the plane of manifestation. From that unitary point of view, the Principle or the Source is seen as not only the Inward but also the Outward10, not only the One but also the essential reality of the many which is but the reflection of the One. At the top of that mountain of unitive knowledge there resides but the One; discrimination between the Real and the unreal terminates in the awareness of the nondual nature of the Real, the awareness which is the heart of gnosis and which represents not human knowledge but God's knowledge of Himself, the consciousness which is the goal of the path of knowledge and the essence of scientia sacra.11

The Ultimate Reality is at once Absolute and Infinite since no finite reality can be absolute due to its exclusion of some domain of reality. This reality is also the Supreme Good or the Perfection which is inseparable from the Absolute. Reality, being at once Absolute, Infinite, and Supreme Goodness or Perfection, cannot but give rise to the world or multiplicity which must be realized for otherwise that Reality would exclude certain possibilities and not be infinite. The world flows from the infinitude and goodness of the Real for to speak of goodness is to speak of manifestation, effusion, or creation and to speak of infinity is to speak of all possibilities including that of the negation of the Principle in whose direction the cosmogonic process moves without ever realizing that negation completely, for that total negation would be nothingness pure and simple.

Goodness is also from another point of view the image of the Absolute in the direction of that effusion and manifestation which marks the descent from the Principle and constitutes the world. Herein lies the root of relativity but it is still on the plane of Divinity. It is relatively in divinis or what could be called, using the well-known Hindu concept, the Divine māyā.12 Relativity is a possibility of that Reality which is at once Absolute and Infinite; hence that reality or the Absolute gives rise to that manifestation of the good which in descending hierarchy leads to the world. The world is ultimately good, as asserted by various orthodox traditions,13 because it descends from the Divine Goodness. The instrument of this descent is the reflection of the Absolute upon the plane of that Divine Relativity, the reflection which is none other than the Supreme Logos, the source of all cosmic perfections, the “place” of the archetypes, the “Word” by which all things were made.14

Since the world or manifestation or creation issues from that Reality which is at once Absolute, Infinite, and Perfection or Goodness, these Hypostases of the Real or the Divine must be also reflected in the manifested order. The quality of absoluteness is reflected in the very existence of things, that mysterious presence of each thing which distinguishes it from all other things and from nothingness. Infinitude is reflected in the world in diverse modes in space which is indefinite extension, in time which is potentially endless duration, in form which displays unending diversity, in number which is marked by endless multiplicity, and in matter, a substance which partakes potentially of endless forms and divisions. As for Goodness, it is reflected in the cosmos through quality itself which is indispensable to existence however eclipsed it might become in certain forms in the world of multiplicity which are removed as far as possible from the luminous and essential pole of manifestation. Space which preserves, time which changes and transforms, form which reflects quality, number which signifies indefinite quantity and matter which is characterized by limitless substantiality are the conditions of existence of not only the physical world but the worlds above reaching ultimately the Divine Empyrean and the Divine Hypostases of Absoluteness, Infinity, and Perfection themselves.

Moreover, each of the Divine Hypostases is reflected in a particular manner in the five conditions of existence. Absoluteness is reflected in space as center, in time as the present moment, in matter as the ether which is the principle of both matter and energy, in form as the sphere which is the most perfect of forms and generator of all other regular geometric forms that are potentially contained in it, and in number as unity which is the source and principle of all numbers. Infinitude is reflected in space as extension which theoretically knows no bound, in time as duration which has logically no end, in matter as the indefiniteness of material substantiality, in form as the unlimited possibility of diversity, and in number as the limitlessness of quantity. As for Perfection, it is reflected in space as the contents or objects in space reflecting Divine Qualities and also as pure existence which as the Sufis say is the “Breath of the Compassionate” (nafas al-raḥmān), in space and time likewise as shapes and events possessing quality, in form as beauty and in number as that qualitative aspect of number always related to geometric forms which is usually associated with the idea of Pythagorean number. Scientia sacra sees these aspects of cosmic existence as reflections upon the plane or the multiple planes of manifestation of the Supreme Hypostases of Absoluteness, Infinitude, and Goodness which characterize the Real as such. It also sees each of these conditions of existence as reflecting directly an aspect of the Divinity: matter and energy the Divine Substance, form the Logos, number the Divine Unity which is inexhaustible, space the infinite extension of Divine Manifestation, and time the rhythms of the universal cycles of existence which the Abrahamic traditions allude to in passing as far as their official, formal theologies are concerned and which Hinduism highlights, referring to them as days and nights in the life of Brahma.

Since metaphysics as developed in the Occident has almost always been related to ontology, it is important to pause a moment and discuss the relation of Being to the Principle or Ultimate Reality. If Being is envisaged as the principle of existence or of all that exists, then It cannot be identified with the Principle as such because the Principle is not exhausted by its creating aspect. Being is the first determination of the Supreme Principle in the direction of manifestation, and ontology remains only a part of metaphysics and is incomplete as long as it envisages the Principle only as Being in the sense defined. But if Being is used to embrace and include the sense of Absoluteness and Infinity, then it can mean both the Supra-Being or Reality beyond Being and Being as its first determination, even if only the term Being is used. Such seems to be the case with esse as employed by certain of the Scholastics and also wujūd in some of the schools of Islamic philosophy and theosophy.15

The distinction between Being and being, Being and existence, existence and essence or quiddity and the relation between quiddity or essence and existence in existents lies at heart of medieval Islamic, Jewish, and Christian philosophy and has been discussed in numerous works of medieval thought. From the point of view of scientia sacra what caused this profound way of envisaging reality to become unintelligible and finally rejected in the West was the loss of that intellectual intuition which destroyed the sense of the mystery of existence and reduced the subject of philosophy from the study of the act of existence (esto) to the existent (ens), thereby gradually reducing reality to pure “it” divorced from the world of the Spirit and the majesty of Being whose constant effusions uphold the world which appears to the senses as possessing a continuous “horizontal” existence divorced from the “vertical” Cause or Being per se. That Islamic philosophy did not end with that impasse which marks the study of ontology in Western philosophy is due to its insistence upon the study of Being and its act rather than existents and to the wedding of this philosophy, by Suhrawardī and those who were to follow him, to spiritual experience which made the experience of Being not only a possibility but the source for all philosophical speculation concerning the concept and reality of being.16

The Ultimate Reality which is both Supra-Being and Being is at once transcendent and immanent. It is beyond everything and at the very heart and center of man's soul. Scientia sacra can be expounded in the language of one as well as the other perspective. It can speak of God or the Godhead, Allah, the Tao, or even nirvāna as being beyond the world, or forms or samsāra, while asserting ultimately that nirvāna is samsāra, and samsāra, nirvāna. But it can also speak of the Supreme Self, of Ātman, compared to which all objectivization is māyā. The Ultimate Reality can be seen as both the Supreme Object and the Innermost Subject, for God is both transcendent and immanent, but He can be experienced as immanent only after He has been experienced as transcendent. Only God as Being can allow man to experience the Godhead as Supra-Being. The unitive knowledge which sees the world not as separative creation but as manifestation that is united through symbols and the very ray of existence to the Source does not at all negate the majesty of transcendence. Without that majesty, the beauty of Divine Proximity cannot be beheld and integral metaphysics is fully aware of the necessity, on its own level, of the theological formulations which insist upon the hiatus between God and man or the Creator and the world. The metaphysical knowledge of unity comprehends the theological one in both a figurative and literal sense, while the reverse is not true. That is why the attainment of that unitive knowledge is impregnated with the perfume of sanctity which always strengthens the very foundations of the religion with which the formal theology in question is concerned, while the study of formal theology can never result in that scientia sacra which simply belongs to another dimension and which relies upon another aspect of the functioning of the Intellect upon the human plane.

Metaphysics does not only distinguish between the Real and the apparent and Being and becoming but also between grades of existence. The hierarchic nature of reality is a universal assertion of all traditions and is part and parcel of their religious practices as well as their doctrines, whether conceived in terms of various hosts and orders of angels as described in the famous Celestial Hierarchies of Dionysius, or levels of light and darkness as in certain schools of Islamic esoterism, or as various orders of gods and titans as in religions with a mythological structure such as Hinduism. Even in Buddhism for which the Supreme Principle is seen as the Void or Emptiness rather than Fullness, the vast intermediate worlds are depicted with remarkable power and beauty in both Buddhist cosmological texts and Buddhist art. The emphasis upon the hierarchic structure of reality in traditional doctrines is so great that a famous Persian poem states that he who does not accept the hierarchy of existence is an infidel (zindīq). Here again scientia sacra which is concerned with the nature of reality is distinguished from theology as usually understood, which can remain satisfied with what concerns man directly and a simpler view of reality based on God and man without emphasis upon the hierarchy of existence, although even in theology many schools have not failed to take into consideration the existence if not always the full significance of the intermediate planes of reality.17

The relation between the various levels of reality or hierarchy of existence cannot be fully understood without taking into consideration another important notion found in one way or another in all the complete expressions of the scientia sacra, this notion being that of necessity to which is contrasted the notion of possibility. The distinction between necessity and possibility is the cornerstone of the philosophy of Ibn Sīnā (Avicenna) who has been called the “philosopher of being” and father of medieval ontology.18 But the significance of both of these terms is of a purely metaphysical order and cannot be limited to the philosophical realm, even if this be traditional philosophy. It is the fruit of intellection rather than ratiocination as are in fact many of the tenets of traditional philosophy which veil in a syllogistic garb intuitions of a purely metaphysical nature. The presence of the notions of necessity and possibility in both Hindu and Far Eastern doctrines point in fact to realities of a universal order not at all limited to one particular mode of exposition or school of metaphysics.

Necessity is opposed to possibility conceptually but, if the meaning of possibility is understood fully, it will be seen that in one sense it complements necessity and is opposed to necessity only in one of its meanings. The root of possibility is related to potentiality and also “puissance,” all three words being derived from posse, which means “to be able to.” Possibility has in fact two meanings: one, the quality or character of something that can exist or not exist; and two, the quality or character of something which has the power and capability to perform or carry out an act. In the first sense the quiddities of things are possible, or contingent; an object can exist or not exist and there is no logical or metaphysical contradiction whether, let us say, a horse exists or not. In this sense but on a higher level, the archetypes or what Islamic metaphysics call al-a‘yān al-thābitah or “immutable essences”19 are also possible beings, only God being necessary. Taken in this meaning of the term, possibility is opposed to necessity while things which do exist and therefore must exist have become necessary not through their own essence but through the Necessary Being which alone is necessary in Itself. That is why, to use the language of Islamic philosophy again, they are called al-wājib bi'l-ghayr, literally “that which is made necessary by other than itself,” the “other” being ultimately the Necessary Being.

In the second sense of the meaning of possibility as power, it is not opposed to necessity but complements it as far as the Principle is concerned. God is Absolute Necessity and Infinite Possibility, the omnipotence of God reflected in the Divine Attribute al-Qādir in the Quran, meaning exactly possibility in this second sense. Whatever happens in this world is according to the Will of God but also in conformity with a Divine Possibility. God could not will what is not possibility in this sense for He would then negate His own Nature. Whatever claims a blind type of religious voluntarism might make, God's omnipotence cannot contradict His Nature and when the Gospel claims, “With God all things are possible,” it is referring precisely to this Infinite Possibility of God.

Each world brought into being corresponds to a Divine Possibility and gains existence through the Divine Will which operates on different levels, sometimes appearing as contradictory to the eyes of the earthly creature. But there is never anything arbitrary about what God wills; His wisdom complements His Will and His Nature remains inviolable.

As far as necessity is concerned, it can be said that although the medieval philosophers called pure Being the Necessary Being, strictly speaking only the Beyond Being or Ultimate Reality is necessity in Itself and necessary with respect to Itself. Being is necessary vis-a-vis the world so that from the point of view of the world or of multiplicity, it can be legitimately considered as the Necessary Being. But Being can also be considered as Possibility as such which must be distinguished from the possibilities which are qualities of Being. These qualities possess two aspects: they are contingent or possible in relation to the Principle or Essence, that is, they can exist or not exist, and they are necessary in their content and so participate in the necessity of the Essence. From the consideration of these two aspects one can see that there are two kinds of possibilities: those which reflect necessity and those which reflect contingency. The first kind engenders objects which definitely exist and the second those which can possibly not exist.

God gives existence to possibilities which are so many reflections and reverberations of Being and from this breathing of existence upon the quiddities of possibilities the world and, in fact, the myriad of worlds are born. That Divine Relativity or māyā, as it is projected toward nothingness and away from the Source, produces privative modalities and inversions of these possibilities whose origin is positive reflection and inversion, polarization of light and casting of shadows, luminous Logos and dark Demiurge. Being as Possibility is Itself the supreme veil of the Reality which in Itself is not only Infinite but also Absolute, that Essence which is beyond all determination.20

To speak of the veil is to be concerned with one of the key concepts with which scientia sacra is concerned, one which, however, has not been as much emphasized in Western metaphysical doctrines as it has in the East, although it is certainly mentioned by such figures as Eckhart and Silesius who allude to the Divine Relativity and are aware of its significance for the understanding of how the roots and principles of manifestation are to be found in the Principle Itself. The veil is none other than what the Hindus call māyā and the Sufis ḥijāb. The fact that māyā has now become practically an English word points to the necessity of dealing with such a concept in the exposition of traditional doctrines and the lack of an appropriate term in the English language to convey all that māyā signifies.

Māyā is usually translated as illusion and from the nondualistic or Advaitist point of view māyā is illusion, only Ātman, the Supreme Self, being real. But māyā is also creativity and “Divine Play” (līlā). On the principial level she is relativity which is the source of separateness, exteriorization, and objectivization. She is that tendency toward nothingness which brings manifestation into being, the nothingness which is never reached but which is implied by the cosmogonic movement away from the Principle. Infinitude could not but include the possibility of separation, division, and externalization which characterize all that is other than the Principle.21 Māyā is the supreme veil and also the supreme theophany which at once veils and reveals.22 God being good cannot but radiate His goodness and this tendency toward radiation or manifestation implies that movement away from the Source which characterizes cosmic and even metacosmic levels of reality away from the Origin which alone is absolutely real. Māyā is almost the same as the Islamic raḥmah, the Divine Mercy, whose “breath” existentiates the world, the very substance of the world being nafas al-raḥmān, the Breath of the Compassionate23 in the same way that one can call māyā the breath of Ātman. For Hinduism, however, the creation of the world or the casting of the veil of māyā upon the Absolute Self or Ātman is expressed as “Divine Play,” while for Islam this externalization which is none other than the activity of māyā is envisaged as the love of God to be “known,” the origin of the world being the revelation of God to Himself according to the famous tradition of the Prophet (ḥadīth), “I was a hidden treasure, I desired to be known, hence I created the world in order to be known.”24

Formal theology envisages God and the world or the Creator and the created in a completely distinct and “absolute” manner and is therefore unable to provide answers for certain fundamental questions intellectually, questions which can be dealt with only from the perspective of the scientia sacra and the doctrine of māyā or veil which, on the highest level, implies introduction of relativity into the principial plane without, however, reaching the level of the Absolute which remains beyond all duality and relativity. Since there is a world which is relative, the roots of this world must exist in the principial order itself and this root is none other than the Divine māyā which veils and manifests the One upon all planes of reality. She is the Feminine, at once Mary and Eve. Evil issues from the exteriorizing activity of māyā but Existence which remains pure and good finally prevails over evil as Eve was forgiven for her sins by the spiritual inviolability and victory of Mary.

Māyā acts through both radiation and reverberation or reflection, first preparing the ground or plane of manifestation and then manifesting both the radiation and reverberation which take place on this plane. To use an image of Schuon,25 if we envisage a point which symbolizes the Absolute or the Supreme Substance, the radii symbolize the radiation, the circumference the reflection or reverberation of the center and the area of the whole circle, Existence itself,26 or a particular level of existence in which māyā repeats her act. Māyā is the source of all duality even on the principial level causing the distinction between the Essence and the Qualities. It is also the source of the dualism between subject and object even on the highest level beyond which there is but the One, in which knower and known, or subject and object are one. But māyā does not remain bound to the principial level alone. She is self-projected through various levels of cosmic existence which a ḥadīth calls the seventy thousand veils of light and darkness and which can be summarized as the three fundamental levels of angelic, animic, and physical existence.

On each level there is a manifestation or reflection of the Supreme Substance and the action of māyā. For example, on the physical or material plane, the reflection of Substance is the ether which is the invisible support and origin of the physical elements. The reverberation of māyā is matter and its radiation energy. Moreover, the two main tendencies of māyā, which are conservation and transformation, translate themselves into space and time in this world and the many worlds and cycles which transform these worlds on the cosmic level. There is, to be sure, an immense gulf which separates various worlds and an almost complete incommensurability between the animic and the material worlds and also between the angelic or spiritual world and the animic. But through all these levels māyā remains māyā, being at once the revealer of the Real and Its veil, in herself the intermediary and isthmus between the Infinite and the finite.

Māyā in its aspect of illusion is also the cause for this impossibility of encompassing Reality in a closed system of thought so characteristic of profane philosophy. The Absolute is blinding evidence or something incomprehensible to those who do not possess the eye or intuition to grasp it conceptually. In any case, ratiocination, belonging to the realm of relativity, cannot be used to prove or perceive the Absolute which remains beyond the reach of all attempts of the relative to comprehend It. But intelligence can know the Absolute and in fact only the Absolute is completely intelligible. Below that level, the activity of māyā enters into play and brings about an element of ambiguity and uncertainty. If there were to be such a thing as pure relativity, it would be completely unintelligible. But even in the relative world which still bears the imprint of the Absolute, the element of ambiguity and unintelligibility of māyā enters into all mental activity which would seek to transgress beyond its legitimate function and try to enmesh the Absolute in a finite system of thought based upon ratiocination.27 Human thought as mental activity cannot become absolutely conformable to the Real as a result of māyā, whereas direct knowledge or intellection has such a power. The plight of innumerable schools of modern philosophy and their failure to achieve the task of encompassing the Real through the process of purely human thought is caused by the power of māyā which exercises its illusory spell most upon those who would deny her reality.

Closely related to the doctrine of māyā is the question of evil and its meaning in the light of the absolute goodness of the Origin and Source, a question which lies at the heart of the problems of theodicy, especially as they have been discussed in the Abrahamic world over the ages. This problem, namely, how can a God who is both omnipotent and good create a world which contains evil, is insoluble on the level of both formal theology and rationalistic philosophy. Its answer can be found only in metaphysics or scientia sacra, the eclipse of which has caused many men to lose their faith in religion and the religious world view precisely because of their inability to gain access to a doctrine which would solve this apparent contradiction. From the metaphysical point of view there is not just the question of the omnipotence of God, there is also the Divine Nature which the Divine Will cannot contradict. God cannot will to cease to be God. Now, this Divine Nature is not limited to Being; as already mentioned, it is the Absolute and Infinite Reality which is the Beyond Being or Supra-Being of which Being is the first determination in the direction of manifestation or creation. The Divine Nature or Ultimate Reality is both infinite and good and therefore wills to radiate and manifest Itself. From this radiation issue the states of existence, the multiple worlds, hence separation, elongation from the Source from which results what manifests itself as evil on a particular plane of reality. To speak of Infinity is to speak of the possibility of the negation of the Source in the direction of nothingness, hence of evil which one might call the “crystallization or existentiation of nothingness.” Since only God—who is both the Beyond Being and Being—is Good, as the Gospels assert, all that is other than God partakes of that element of privation which is the source of evil. The will of God as the Godhead or the Beyond Being is the realization of the possibilities inherent in Its Infinitude and hence that separation from the Source which implies evil. But precisely because manifestation is a possibility of Infinite Reality, the existence of the world in itself is not evil nor does the element of evil appear in any of the worlds still close to the Divine Proximity.28 Now, the Will of God as Being operates within the radiation and reverberation caused by māyā and the very Nature of that Infinite Reality which is the Supra-Being. The Will of God on this level opposes concrete forms of evil according to the criteria established by various revelations and always in the light of the total good and in accordance with the economy of a particular traditional mode of life. On this level the Will of God is opposed to various types of evil without being able to eradicate existence as such, which would amount to negating the Divine Nature Itself. There are in reality two levels of operation of the Divine Will or even two Divine Wills, one related to the Absolute and Infinite Reality which cannot but manifest and create, hence, separation, elongation, and privation which appear as evil; and the second related to the Will of Being which opposes the presence of evil in accordance with the divine laws and norms which constitute the ethical structures of various traditional worlds.

To relate evil to the infinity of that Reality which is also the All-Possibility, does not mean to deny the reality of evil on a particular level of reality. The existence of evil is inseparable from the relative level in which it manifests itself. One cannot simply say that evil does not exist as do even certain traditional masters of gnosis who, gazing with constancy upon the overwhelming goodness of the Divine Principle, in a sense circumvent evil and pass it by.29 But this is of course not the case of all the traditional sages, many of whom have provided the metaphysical key for the understanding of evil. From the point of view of scientia sacra, although real on the relative plane of reality, evil has no reality as a substance and in itself as a thing or object. Evil is always partial and fragmented. It must exist because of the ontological hiatus between the Principle and manifestation but it remains always limited and bound while goodness is unlimited and opens unto the Infinite. Also as far as the Will of God is concerned, God wills evil not as evil but as part of a greater good to which this segmented reality called evil contributes. That is why evil is never evil in its existential substance but through that privation of a good which plays a role in the total economy of the cosmos and contributes to a greater good. Every disequilibrium and disorder is of a partial and transient nature contributing to that total equilibrium, harmony, and order which is the cosmos.30

The doctrine of māyā or ḥijāb enables us to understand the metaphysical roots of that which appears as evil. This doctrine explains evil as privation and separation from the Good and also as an element contributing to a greater good, although within a particular ambience or plane of existence, evil remains evil as a result of either privation or excess. If this doctrine is fully understood then it is possible to comprehend the meaning of evil as such. But even in this case it is not possible for man to understand such or such an evil, only God being totally and completely intelligible. In any case, although the Divine Will wills everything that exists including what appears as evil, as far as man, who is both intelligent and has a free will, is concerned, God wills for him only the good. The best way of solving the question of evil and theodicy is in fact to live a life which would make possible the actualization of the scienta sacra in one's being. This realization or actualization is the best possible way of understanding the nature of the Good and the why of terrestrial human existence which, being removed from God, cannot but be marred by the fragmentation, dissipation, and privation that appears as evil and that is as real as that plane of reality upon which it manifests itself. Evil ceases to exist, however, on a higher plane, where transient and partial disorders contribute to a greater order and privation to a greater good.

Closely allied to the question of good and evil is that of free will and determinism which has also occupied philosophers and theologians in the Abrahamic world over the ages but which also is of central concern in other traditional climates such as that of India as evidenced by the discussion of correct action in the Bhagavad-Gīta. In this question also there is no possibility of going beyond the either-or dichotomy as long as one remains on the level of formal theology or rationalistic philosophy as witnessed by centuries of debates among theologians and philosophers in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. From the metaphysical point of view, however, the whole debate appears as sterile and fragmented through the fact that both sides attribute a quality of absoluteness to that which is relative, namely the human plane. Metaphysically speaking, only the Ultimate Reality is absolute and at once pure necessity and pure freedom. Only God is completely necessary and free, being both Absoluteness and Infinitude. Now, on the human plane, we are already on the level of relativity, therefore there cannot be either absolute determination or absolute free will. Something of both must manifest itself on the level of human relativity. If only one of these two conditions were to be present, the plane of relativity would no longer be relative but absolute. Man's freedom is as real as himself. He ceases to be free in the sense of independent of the Divine Will to the extent that he ceases to be separated ontologically from God. At the same time, man is determined and not free to the extent that an ontological hiatus separates him from his Source and Origin, for only God is freedom. Journeying from the relative toward the Absolute means at once losing the freedom of living in error and gaining freedom from the tyranny of all the psycho-material determinations which imprison and stifle the soul. In God there is pure freedom and pure necessity and only in Him is man completely free and also completely determined but with a determination which, being nothing but man's own most profound nature and the root of his being, is none other than the other face of freedom, total and unconditional.

Intelligence is a divine gift which pierces through the veil of māyā and is able to know reality as such. It is a ray of light which pierces through the veils of cosmic existence to the Origin and connects the periphery of existence, upon which fallen man lives, to the Center wherein resides the Self. The Intellect is itself divine and only human to the extent that man participates in it. It is a substance as well as a function; it is light as well as vision. The Intellect is not the mind nor is it reason which is the reflection of the Intellect upon the human plane, but it is the root and center of consciousness and what has been traditionally called the soul. In the technical sense, however, the soul must be considered as the equivalent of the anima or psyche in which case the Intellect is spiritus or nous from whose marriage with the passive and feminine psyche is born that gold which symbolizes the perfection of the sanctified soul.

The metacosmic principle which is the Intellect is the source of both knowledge and being, of the subjective conscience which knows and the objective order which is known. It is also the source of revelation which creates a nexus between man and the cosmos and of course the metacosmic Reality. The Logos or Buddhi or ‘aql, as the Intellect is called in various traditions, is the luminous center which is the generating agent of the world—for “it was by the Word that all things were made”—of man, and of religion. It is God's knowledge of Himself and the first in His creation. Moreover, as there is a hierarchy of cosmic existence, so are there levels of consciousness and degrees of descent of the Intellect through various levels of existence until man is reached, in whose heart the ray of Intellect still shines, although it is usually dimmed by the passions and the series of “falls” that have separated man from what he really is.

Yet, even the consciousness of fallen man and the intelligence which shines within him, although a distant reflection of the Intellect, nevertheless display something of the miracle of the Intellect which is at once supernatural and natural. Perhaps the most immediate experience of man is his subjectivity, the mystery of inwardness and a consciousness which can reflect upon itself, opening inwardly unto the Infinite which is also bliss. No less of a miracle is the power of objectivity, the power of human intelligence to know the world in an objective manner and with a categorical certitude which no amount of sophism can destroy. Finally, there is the mystery of the adequation of knowledge, of the fact that our intelligence corresponds to the nature of reality and that what man knows corresponds to aspects of the Real.31 But these are all mysteries as long as man is cut off from the light of intellectual intuition or intellection. Otherwise, in the light of the Intellect itself both the subjective and objective powers of intelligence are perfectly intelligible.

As already stated, scientia sacra cannot be attained without intellection and the correct functioning of intelligence within man. That is why those who are cut off from this inner sacrament32 not only repudiate the teachings of this sacred knowledge but also offer rationalistic arguments against them based usually on incomplete or false premises, expecting the heavens to collapse as a result of this sound and fury which metaphysically signifies nothing. Intellection does not reach the truth as a result of profane thought or reasoning but through an a priori direct intuition of the truth. Reasoning may act as an occasion for intellection but it cannot be the cause of intellection. For that very reason the fruit of intellection cannot be nullified or negated by any form of reasoning which, based on the limitations of the person who uses reasoning, often results in error pure and simple. This assertion does not mean of course that intellection is against logic or that it is irrational. On the contrary, there is no truth which can be considered illogical, logic itself being an ontological reality of the human state. But the role and function of reasoning and the use of logic in metaphysics and profane philosophy are completely different, as different as the use of mathematics in the rosette of the Chartres Cathedral or a cupola of one of the mosques of Isfahan and in a modern skyscraper.

Although the Intellect shines within the being of man, man is too far removed from his primordial nature to be able to make full use of this divine gift by himself. He needs revelation which alone can actualize the intellect in man and allow it to function properly. The day when each man was also a prophet and when the intellect functioned in man “naturally” so that he saw all things in divinis and possessed a direct knowledge of a sacred character is long past. The traditional doctrines themselves emphasize that in the later unfolding of the cosmic cycle it is only revelation or avatāric descent that enables man to see once again with the “eye of the heart” which is the “eye of the intellect.” If there are exceptions, these are exceptions which only prove the rule and in any case “the wind bloweth where it listeth.”

Revelation in its esoteric dimension makes possible, through initiation, access to higher levels of man's being as well as consciousness. The appropriate rites, the traditional cadre, forms and symbols, and the grace issuing from revelation provide keys with which man is able to open the doors of the inner chambers of his being and with the help of the spiritual master to journey through the cosmic labyrinth with the result of finally attaining that treasure which is none other than the pearl of gnosis. Revelation actualizes the possibilities of the intellect, removes impediments of the carnal soul which prevent the intellect from functioning, and makes possible the transmission of an initiatic knowledge which at the same time resides within the very substance of the intellect. There is an unbridgeable hiatus between intelligence sanctified by revelation and the intelligence which, cut off from this source and also from its own root, is reduced to its reflection upon the human mind and atrophied into that truncated and fragmented faculty which is considered scientifically as intelligence.33

As far as the relation between the intellect and revelation is concerned, it is fundamental to say a few words on the rapport between intellectuality and sacred scripture which has been so forgotten in the modern world. Without reviving spiritual exegesis, it is not possible to rediscover scientia sacra in the bosom of a tradition dominated by the presence of sacred scripture. Scripture possesses an inner dimension which is attainable only through intellection operating within a traditional framework and which alone is able to solve certain apparent contradictions and riddles in sacred texts. Once intellectual intuition becomes inoperative and the mind a frozen lake over which ideas glide but into which nothing penetrates, then the revealed text also veils its inner dimension and spiritual exegesis becomes reduced to archaeology and philology, not to speak of the extrapolation of the subjective errors of the present era back into the age of the revelation in question. Clement and Origen become thus transformed into modern exegetes for whom the New Testament is little more than an ethical commentary upon the social conditions of first-century Palestine.

In the Oriental world, including the Judeo-Christian tradition, the spiritual science of exegesis has never died out completely. The sacred text serves as the source for the formal world of the tradition in question, including its ritual and liturgical practices and its sacred art, as well as the intellectual aspect of the tradition extending from formal theology, philosophy, and the science of symbols to scientia sacra itself which crowns the inner message conveyed by the sacred text and which is attained through the intelligence that is sanctified by that very sacred scripture.34 In Islam, dominated by the blinding presence of the Quran, every aspect of the tradition has been related to the Holy Book and the category of exegetes35 has ranged from those concerned with the Divine Law to the gnostics who have penetrated through that spiritual hermeneutics or ta'wīl36 to the pearl of wisdom residing behind the veil of the external forms of the Holy Book. Such masterpieces of Sufism as the Mathnawī of Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī are in reality commentaries upon the Quran, not to speak of the numerous esoteric commentaries of such masters as Ibn ‘Arabī,37 Ṣadr al-Dīn al-Qūnyawī,38 ‘Abd al-Razzāq al-Kāshānī, Rashīd al-Dīn Aḥmad Mībudī, and others. Both scientia sacra and all the ancillary traditional sciences in Islam may be said to issue forth from the fountainhead of the inner wisdom contained in the Quran in the same way that Hinduism considers the traditional sciences to be the limbs of the Vedas. Spiritual hermeneutics is the means whereby the intelligence, sanctified by revelation, is able to penetrate into the heart of revelation to discover that principial truth which is the very root and substance of intelligence itself. In this process the microcosmic manifestation of the Intellect, which is the source of inner illumination and intellection, unveils the inner meaning of that macrocosmic manifestation of the Intellect which is revelation or more specifically, sacred scripture. Moreover, the same truth pertains mutatis mutandis to the interpretation of the inner meaning of that other revealed book which is the cosmos itself.

Scientia sacra envisages intelligence in its rapport not only with revelation in an external sense but also with the source of inner revelation which is the center of man, namely the heart. The seat of intelligence is the heart and not the head, as affirmed by all traditional teachings. The word heart, hṛdaya in Sanskrit, Herz in German, kardia in Greek, and cor/cordis in Latin, have the root hrd or krd which, like the Egyptian Horus, imply the center of the world or a world.39 The heart is also the center of the human microcosm and therefore the “locus” of the Intellect by which all things were made. The heart is also the seat of sentiments and the will, the other elements of which the human being is constituted. Profound emotions as well as will have their origin in the heart as does intelligence which constitutes the apex of the microcosmic ternary of powers or faculties. It is also in the heart that intelligence and faith meet and where faith itself becomes saturated with the light of sapience. In the Quran both faith (īmān) and intelligence (‘aql) are explicitly identified with the heart (al-qalb),40 while in Hinduism the Sanskrit term śraddhā, which is usually translated as faith, means literally knowledge of the heart.41 In Latin also the fact that credo and cor/cordis are derived from the same root points to the same metaphysical truth. This traditional exegesis of language reveals not only the relation of principial knowledge to the heart but also the important metaphysical principle that integral intelligence is never divorced from faith but that, on the contrary, faith is necessary in the actualization of the possibilities of intellection within the cadre of a revelation. That intelligence which is able to attain to the knowledge of the sacred is already sanctified and rooted in the center of the human state where it is never divorced from either faith or love. In the heart, knowledge in fact always coincides with love. Only when externalized does knowledge become related to the mind and the activity of the brain, and love to that substance which is usually called the soul.

This externalization of the intelligence and its projection upon the plane of the mind is, however, a necessary condition of human existence without which man would not be man, the creature who is created as a thinking being. Dialectical intelligence identified with the mind is not in itself negative; in fact, human intelligence in its fullness implies the correct functioning of both the intelligence of the heart and that of the mind, the first being intuitive and the second analytical and discursive. The two functions together make possible the reception, crystallization, formulation, and finally communication of the truth. Mental formulation of the intuition received by the intelligence in the heart becomes completely assimilated by man and actualized through the activity of the mind. This in fact is one of the main roles of meditation in spiritual exercises, meditation being related to the activity of the mind. Through this process also the light received by the heart is communicated and transmitted, such an activity being necessary because of the very nature of the content of the intuition received by the intelligence residing in the heart, the content which, being good, has to give of itself and, like all goodness, shine forth.42 The human being needs to exteriorize certain inner truths in order to be able to interiorize, to analyze in order to synthesize, synthesis needing a phase of analysis. Hence, the need of man for language which proceeds from holy silence and returns again to it, but which plays a vital role in the formulation of the truth issuing from the first silence and in preparing man for return to the second silence which is synthesis after analysis, return to unity after separation.43

Symbolically, the mind can be considered as the moon which reflects the light of the sun which is the heart. The intelligence in the heart shines upon the plane of the mind which then reflects this light upon the dark night of the terrestrial existence of fallen man. Scientia sacra which issues from the total intelligence of the heart,44 therefore, also includes the dialectic of the mind. In fact, some of the greatest dialecticians in both East and West have been metaphysicians who have realized the supreme station of knowledge. What tradition opposes is not the activity of the mind but its divorce from the heart, the seat of intelligence and the location of the “eye of knowledge,” which the Sufis call the eye of the heart (‘ayn al-qalb or chishm-i dil) and which is none other than the “third eye” of the Hindu tradition. It is this eye which transcends duality and the rational functioning of the mind based upon analysis and which perceives the unity that is at once the origin and end of the multiplicity perceived by the mind and the mind's own power to analyze and know discursively. That is why the Sufis chant:

Open the eye of thy heart so that thou wilst see the Spirit

So that thou wilst see that which cannot be seen.45

The attempt of the rational mind to discover the Intellect through its own light is seen by tradition to be futile because the object which the rational faculty is trying to perceive is actually the subject which makes the very act of perception by the rational faculty possible. A mind which is cut off from the light of the intelligence of the heart and which seeks to find God is unaware that the light with which it is seeking to discover God is itself a ray of the Light of God. Such a mind cannot but be like a person wandering in the desert in the brightness of day with a lamp in his hand looking for the sun.46 Blindness does not issue from reason but from reason being cut off from the intellect and then trying to play the role of the intellect in the attainment of knowledge. Such an attempt cannot but result in that desacralization of knowledge and of life that one already observes in members of that segment of humanity which has chosen to take its destiny into its own hands and live on the earth as if it were only of this earth.

Since scientia sacra is expressed outwardly and does not remain only on the level of the inner illumination of the heart, it is necessary to understand something of the kind of language it employs. The formal language used for the expression of scientia sacra, and in fact nearly the whole spectrum of traditional teachings, is that of symbolism. Scientia sacra can be expressed in human words as well as in landscape paintings, beating of drums, or other formal means which convey meaning. But in all cases symbolism remains the key for the understanding of its language. Fortunately, during this century much has been written on the veritable significance of symbols, and it has been shown, especially in works identified with the circle of traditional writers, that symbols are not man-made signs, but reflections on a lower level of the existence of a reality belonging to the higher order.47 Symbols are ontological aspects of a thing, to say the least as real as the thing itself, and in fact that which bestows significance upon a thing within the universal order of existence. In the hierarchic universe of traditional metaphysics, it can be said that every level of reality and everything on every level of reality is ultimately a symbol, only the Real being Itself as such. But on a more limited scale, one can say that symbols reflect in the formal order archetypes belonging to the principial realm and that through symbols the symbolized is unified with its archetypal reality.48

There are, moreover, symbols which are “natural” in the sense of being inherent in the nature of certain objects and forms through the very cosmogonic process which has brought forth these forms upon the terrestrial plane. There are other symbols which are sanctified by a particular revelation that is like a second creation. The sun is “naturally” the symbol of the Divine Intellect for anyone who still possesses the faculty of symbolic perception and in whom the “symbolist spirit” is operative. But the same sun is sanctified in a special manner in solar cults such as Mithraism and gains a special significance in a particular traditional universe as has wine in Christianity or water in Islam. The Sufi poets may use the symbolism of wine in the first sense of symbol but it is the Christic descent which has given that special significance to wine in the Eucharist as a sanctified symbol that remains bound to the particular world which is Christian.49

Scientia sacra makes use of both types of symbolism in the exposition of its teachings but is always rooted in its formal aspect in the tradition in which it flowers and functions and by virtue of which the very attainment of this sacred knowledge is possible in an operative manner. Sufism may draw occasionally from Hindu or Neoplatonic formulations and symbols, but its formal world is that of the Quran and it is the grace issuing from the Quranic revelation which has made the attainment of gnosis in Sufism possible. It is in fact the living tradition that molds the language of discourse of metaphysics and that chooses among the symbols available to it those which best serve its purpose of communicating a doctrine of a sapiential and sacred nature. On the one hand, symbolism can be fully understood only in the light of a living spirituality without which it can become a maze of riddles; on the other hand, symbols serve as the means whereby man is able to understand the language of scientia sacra.

Finally, it must be emphasized that traditional metaphysics or scientia sacra is not only a theoretical exposition of the knowledge of reality. Its aim is to guide man, to illuminate him, and allow him to attain the sacred. Therefore, its expositions are also points of reference, keys with which to open certain doors and means of opening the mind to certain realities. In their theoretical aspect they have a provisional aspect in the sense of the Buddhist upāya, of accommodating means of teaching the truth. In a sense, scientia sacra contains both the seed and the fruit of the tree of knowledge. As theory it is planted as a seed in the heart and mind of man, a seed that if nurtured through spiritual practice and virtue becomes a plant which finally blossoms forth and bears fruit in which, once again, that seed is contained. But if the first seed is theoretical knowledge, in the sense of theoria or vision, the second seed is realized gnosis, the realization of a knowledge which being itself sacred, consumes the whole being of the knower and, as the sacred, demands of man all that he is. That is why it is not possible to attain this knowledge in any way except by being consumed by it.

The result of my life can be summarized in three words;

I was immature, I matured and I was consumed.50


  • 1.

    On the meaning of this term see Nasr, Islamic Science—An Illustrated Study, London, 1976, p. 14.

  • 2.

    “Toute connaissance est, par définition, celle de la Réalité absolue; c'est à dire que la Réalité est l'objet nécessaire, unique, essentiel de toute connaissance possible.” Schuon, L'Oeil du coeur, p. 20.

  • 3.

    Islamic as well as Jewish and Christian philosophers of the medieval period distinguished between the Active Intellect (al-‘aql al-fa‘‘āl, intellectus agens, ha-sekhel hapo'et) which is the origin of knowledge and the potential or “material” intellect (al-‘aql al-hayūlānī, intellectus materialis, ha-sekhel ha-hyula'ni) which receives knowledge, and emphasized the intellectual nature of what is received by the human mind from the Divine Intellect. On the doctrine of the intellect in Islam see Ibn Sīnā, Le Livre des directives et remarques, trans. A. M. Goichon, Paris-Beirut, 1951, pp. 324ff; al-Fārābī, Epistola sull'intelletto, trans. F. Lucchetta, Padua, 1974; F. Rahman, Prophecy in Islam, Philosophy and Orthodoxy, Chicago, 1979; and J. Jolivet, L'Intellect selon Kindī, Leiden, 1971. As for the medieval Western world in general see E. Gilson, History of Christian Philosophy in the Middle Ages, New York, 1955; also M. Shallo, Lessons in Scholastic Philosophy, Philadelphia, 1916, pp. 264ff; and R. P. de Angelis, Conoscenza dell'individuate e conoscenza dell'universale nel XIII e XIV secolo, Rome, 1922. H. A. Wolfson has also dealt with this issue in many of his writings including The Problem of the Soul of the Spheres, Washington, 1962; Essays in the History of Philosophy and Religion, ed. I. Twersky and G. H. Williams, Cambridge, Mass., 1979; Philo: Foundations of Religious Philosophy in Judaism, Cambridge, Mass., 1968; Christianity and Islam, Cambridge, 1948; and “Extradeical and Intradeical Interpretations of Platonic Ideas,” Journal of the History of Ideas 22/1 (Jan.–March 1961): 3–32.

  • 4.

    The Platonic view which sees knowledge descending from the realm of the “ideas” to the world, or from the Principle to manifestation, is more akin to the sapiential perspective than the Aristotelian one which moves from manifestation to the Principle or from physics to metaphysics.

  • 5.

    On the distinction between metaphysics and profane philosophy see Guénon, Introduction to the Study of Hindu Doctrines, pp. 108ff; and idem, “Oriental Metaphysics,” in Needleman (ed.), Sword of Gnosis, pp. 40–56.

  • 6.

    This issue has been discussed by T. Izutsu, among others, in his The Concept and Reality of Existence, Tokyo, 1971; also his Unicité de l'existence et création perpétuelle en mystique islamique, Paris, 1980.

  • 7.
    The service rendered by traditional authors to French, English, and German, the primary languages employed by them, in reviving them as languages for metaphysical discourse and in resuscitating their symbolic quality is the very reverse of the process being carried out by many modern analytical philosophers and positivists to cleanse European languages of their metaphysical content, reducing them to unidimensional languages reflecting the unidimensional minds which use such forms of language.

    The concern of certain traditional authors with etymology and the revival of the significance of the root meaning of words is closely linked with this need to bring to the fore once again the symbolic possibilities hidden in the very structure of words which were once used by human beings who lived in the world of the sacred and who possessed the “symbolist spirit” which was directly reflected in their language. The still extant sacred and archaic languages are a witness to the remarkable treasury of metaphysics embedded in the very structure of language itself. In fact, in certain societies to this day metaphysics is taught as a commentary upon a sacred or archaic language, for example, in certain schools of Sufism. As far as Sufism is concerned see J. L. Michon, Le Soufi marocain Aḥmad ibn ‘Ajība et son mi‘āj. Glossaire de la mystique musulman, Paris, 1973, especially pp. 177ff.

    See also E. Zolla, Language and Cosmogony, Ipswich, U.K., 1976; and J. Canteins, Phonèmes et archetypes, Paris, 1972.

  • 8.

    This element comprises the heart of all traditional doctrine while the method concerns means of attaching oneself to the Real. On the relation between doctrine and method see M. Pallis, “The Marriage of Wisdom and Method,” Studies in Comparative Religion 6/2 (1972): 78–104.

  • 9.

    Some contemporary scholars such as R. Panikkar (in his Inter-religious Dialogue, New York, 1978) have contrasted the Buddhist Shunyata and the Christian Pleroma but, metaphysically speaking, the concept of Ultimate Reality as emptiness and as fullness complement each other like the yin-yang symbol and both manifest themselves in every integral tradition. Even in Christianity where the symbolism of Divine Fullness is emphasized and developed with remarkable elaboration in Franciscan theology, esp. that of St. Bonaventure, the complementary vision of emptiness appears in the teachings of the Dominican Meister Eckhart who speaks of the “desert of the Godhead.”

  • 10.

    In one of the most difficult verses to comprehend from the exoteric point of view the Quran states, “He is the First and the Last; the Outward and the Inward” (LVII; 3).

  • 11.

    This is the view of the Advaita Vedanta in Hinduism and of the transcendent Unity of Being (waḥdat al-wujūd) in Sufism which, because of the myopia of a reason divorced from the sanctifying rays of the Intellect, have been often mistaken for pantheism. See Nasr, Three Muslim Sages, Cambridge, Mass., 1964, pp. 104–8; also T. Burckhardt, Introduction to Sufi Doctrine, pp. 28–30.

  • 12.

    See Schuon, Du Divin à l'humain, pt. 2, “Ordre divin et universel.”

  • 13.

    The point of view of Manichaeism which sees the world as evil rather than good is primarily initiatic and not metaphysical, that is, it begins not with the aim of understanding the nature of things but of providing a way for escaping from the prison of material existence. Buddhism possesses a similar practical perspective but, of course, with a different metaphysical background since it belongs to a different spiritual universe.

  • 14.

    Islam and Hinduism join the Judeo-Christian tradition in confirming that it was by the Word that all things were made. The Quran asserts, “Verily, when He [Allah] intends a thing, His Command is, “Be” [kun], and it is!” (XXXVI; 82—Yusuf Ali translation). Here the imperative form of the verb “to be,” namely kun, being identified with the Word or Logos.

  • 15.
    One can interpret Thomistic metaphysics which begins and ends with esse as including the notion of the Real in its completely unconditioned and undetermined sense although this term could be complemented by the term posse to denote the All-Possibility of the Divine Principle. From this point of view one can assert that despite the sensualist epistemology of St. Thomas, criticized earlier because of its denial of the possibility of intellectual intuition, Thomism contains in its dogmatic content truths of a truly metaphysical nature which reflect knowledge of a principial order and which can serve as support for metaphysical contemplation.

    In Islamic philosophy such a figure as Ṣadr al-Dīn Shīrāzī speaks about wujūd (which means literally “being”) in such a manner that it is definitely to be identified with the Supreme Principle rather than its first self-determination. The Supreme Name of God in Islam, namely, Allah, implies also both Being and Beyond Being, both the personal Deity and the Absolute and Infinite Reality, both God and the Godhead of Meister Eckhart.

  • 16.

    See the introduction of Corbin to Ṣadr al-Dīn Shīrāzī, Le Livre des pénétrations métaphysiques, Tehran-Paris, 1964, where he contrasts the destiny of ontology in the Islamic world ending with Sabziwāri and his like and in the West terminating with Heidegger, showing the chasm which distinguishes the Islamic theosophical and philosophical schools from Existenz philosophy. See also Izutsu, The Concept and Reality of Existence; and Nasr, “Mullā Ṣadrā and the Doctrine of the Unity of Being,” Philosophical Forum, December 1973, pp. 153–61.

  • 17.

    In Islam such a widespread theological school as Ash‘arism is characterized by its rejection of the hierarchy of existence in conformity with its atomistic and voluntatistic point of view.

  • 18.

    On this question see Nasr, An Introduction to Islamic Cosmological Doctrines, chap. 12, “The Anatomy of Being.” In Arabic “necessity” is wujūb and “possibility” imkān, which in the context of Avicennan ontology we translate as “contingency.”

  • 19.

    On the immutable essences see T. Burckhardt, Introduction to Sufi Doctrine, pp. 62–64.

  • 20.

    “Nous pouvons discerner [dans l'absolument Réel] une tridirnensionalité, elle aussi intrinsèquement indifférenciée mais annonciatrice d'un déploiement possible; ces dimensions sont l'‘Être’, la ‘Conscience’, la ‘Félicité’. C'est en vertu du troisième élément—immuable en soi—que la Possibilité divine déborde et donne bien, ‘par amour’, à ce mystère d'extériorisation qu'est le Voile universel, dont la chaine est faite des mondes, et la traine, des êtres.” Schuon, “Le problème de la possibilité,” in Du Divin à l'humain.

  • 21.

    To which Islamic metaphysics refer as mā siwa'Llāh, literally, “all that is other than Allah.”

  • 22.

    Māyā is likened to a magic fabric woven from a warp that veils and a weft that unveils.” Schuon, “Atmā-Māyā,” p. 89. On the metaphysical significance of māyā as both veil and principle of relativization and manifestation of the Absolute see, besides this article, the chap. “Māyā” in Schuon's Light on the Ancient Worlds, pp. 89–98.

  • 23.

    On the Breath of the Compassionate see Ibn al-‘Arabī, The Bezels of Wisdom, trans. R. W. J. Austin, New York, 1980, “The Wisdom of Leadership in the Word of Aaron,” pp. 241ff. Also Nasr, Science and Civilization in Islam, chap. 13.

  • 24.

    Called the hadīth of kanz al-makhfī (The Hidden Treasure).

  • 25.

    See his “Atmā-Māyā.”

  • 26.

    As far as the highest level is concerned, Islamic metaphysics calls the reverberation “the most sacred effusion” (al-fayḍal-aqdas) and the radii “the sacred effusion” (al-fayḍ al-muqaddas), the first being the archetype of all things (al-a‘yān al-thābitah) and the second the Breath of the Compassionate which externalizes and existentiates them on various planes of reality.

  • 27.

    “The desire to enclose universal Reality in an exclusive and exhaustive ‘explanation’ brings with it a permanent disequilibrium due to the interference of Māyā.” Schuon, Light on the Ancient Worlds, p. 91.

  • 28.

    The Quranic doctrine that Iblīs was a jinn and made of fire signifies that the presence of evil does not make itself felt on the cosmic plane until the descent reaches into the animic realm.

  • 29.

    The Intellect as it operates in man does not begin with a knowledge of the world but with an a priori knowledge of the Divine Good which it perceives before it even comes to understand evil. That is why some metaphysicians, led through intellection to a direct understanding of the Good in itself, do not even have a desire to understand evil and pass it by as if it did not exist. There is, of course, also the experiential aspect to consider. A saint who has destroyed evil not in the whole world but around himself might be said to breathe already in the atmosphere of paradise and therefore be oblivious to the evils of terrestrial existence which do not exist as such for him. This attitude is to be found among certain of the great Sufis who assert that evil simply does not exist without bothering to provide the metaphysical evidence as to what one means by such a statement and from what point of view can one say that evil does not exist.

  • 30.

    Cosmos literally means “order” in Greek. The opposite of cosmos is nothing but chaos.

  • 31.

    The principle of adequation does not negate our earlier assertion that māyā prevents containing and comprehending reality in a system derived from ratiocination, for we are speaking here of intellection and intelligence not ratiocination and thought of a purely human character.

  • 32.

    Not only in the Islamic tradition whose spirituality is essentially sapiential is intelligence considered as God's greatest gift to man (according to the well-known saying attributed to ‘Alī ibn Abī Tālib, “God did not bestow upon His servants anything more precious than intelligence”), but even in Christianity which is primarily a way of love the Hesychasts consider the essence of the prayer of Jesus itself to be the actualization and descent of intelligence into the human heart.

  • 33.

    See Schuon, In the Tracks of Buddhism, p. 83.

  • 34.

    “A point de vue doctrinal, ce qui importerait le plus, ce serait de retrouver la science spirituelle de l'exégèse, c'est-à-dire de l'interpretation métaphysique et mystique des Écritures; les principes de cette science, dont le maniement présuppose de toute evidence une haute intelligence intuitive et non une simple acuité mentale, ont été exposés par Origène et d'autres, et mis en pratique par les Pères et par les plus grands saints. En d'autres termes, ce qui manque en Occident, c'est une intellectualité fondé, non sur l'érudition et le scepticisme philosophique, mais sur l'intuition intellectuelle actualisée par le Saint-Esprit sur la base d'une exégèse tenant compte de tous les plans et de tous les niveaux de l'entendement; cette exégèse implique aussi la science du symbolisme, et celle-ci s'étend à tous les domaines de l'expression formelle, notamment à l'art sacré, qui, lui englobe la liturgie, au sense le plus large, aussi bien que l'art proprement dit. L'Orient traditionel ne s'étant jamais éloigné de cette manière d'envisager des choses, la compréhension de ses métaphysiques, ses exégèses, ses symbolismes, et ses arts seraient pour l'Occident, d'un intérêt vital.” Schuon, “Que peut donner l'Orient à l'Occident?” France-Asie, no. 103 (Dec. 1954): 151.

  • 35.

    There are in fact numerous works in Islamic languages on the “categories” of commentators usually called Tabaqāt al-mufassirīn, while a clear distinction is made between exoteric commentary (tafsīr) and inner or esoteric commentary (ta'wīl).

  • 36.

    Ta'wīl, which in Islamic esoterism means to reach the inner meaning of the sacred text and which should not be confused with the pejorative sense in which it is occasionally used as meaning individualistic interpretation of the sacred text, contains a profound metaphysical significance in its very etymology for it means, literally, “to take back to the beginning,” implying that to reach the inner meaning (bātin) from the outward sense (zāhir) is also to return to the origin or beginning of that truth whose very descent implies also externalization. On the question of ta'wīl see Corbin, En Islam iranien, vol. 3, pp. 222ff. and pp. 256ff., where it is discussed with reference to the Quran; and Nasr, Ideals and Realities of Islam, chap. 2.

  • 37.

    The well-known Ta'wīl al-qur'ān (The Spiritual or Hermeneutic Commentary upon the Quran) attributed to Ibn ‘Arabī is actually by a later member of his school, ‘Abd al-Razzāq al-Kāshānī, while Ibn ‘Arabī himself wrote a monumental commentary, discovered by O. Yahya, which, however, has not as yet been printed.

  • 38.

    The major commentary of Qunyawī on the Sūrat al-fātihah, the opening chapter of the Quran, is being edited and translated by W. Chittick and is to appear soon.

  • 39.

    See R. Guénon, “The Heart and the Cave,” in Studies in Comparative Religion 4 (Spring 1971): 69–72.

  • 40.

    Hence īmān is often identified with knowledge and when God is referred to as al-mu' mīn, traditional commentators do not translate that Name as “He who has faith” as one would expect from the literal meaning but as “He who has knowledge which illuminates the creature and transforms him.”

  • 41.

    See H. Köhler, ŚraddhāIn der Vedischen und Altbuddistischen Literatur, Wiesbaden, 1973. This issue has been dealt with in detail by W. C. Smith in his Faith and Belief. Smith draws attention quite rightly to the fact that, before modern times, belief as opinion was not a religious category and faith was related to knowledge not to belief in the tentative sense in which this term is used today. This does not mean that the more traditional sense of the term belief which is still alive cannot be fully resuscitated.

  • 42.

    In traditional Islamic educational circles the ability to teach metaphysics is considered as the sign of the teacher's complete assimilation of the subject in such a manner that his intellect has reached the level of al-‘aql bi'l-malakah (intellectus habitus) and the knowledge in question has become for him bi'l-malakah, that is, completely digested and assimilated.

  • 43.

    What Islamic metaphysics calls al-jam‘ba‘d al-farq,

  • 44.

    Some of the most profound metaphysical doctrines expounded in works of Islamic philosophy and theosophy are described under the title of al-wāridāt al-qalbiy-yah, literally, “that which has entered the heart.” In fact, one of the books of Ṣadr al-Dīn Shīrāzī, one of the greatest of Islamic metaphysicians, bears such a title. See Nasr, The Transcendent Theosophy of Ṣadr al-Dīn Shīrāzī, London, 1978, p. 49.

  • 45.
  • 46.
    This is the imagery of the famous poem of Shabistarī from the Gulshan-i rāz;

    There is many a fool who seeks the luminous sun

    In the desert with a lamp in his hand.

  • 47.

    On the meaning and science of symbols see L. Benoist, Signes, symboles et mythes, Paris, 1977; H. Sedlmayr, Verlust der Mitte, Salzburg, 1976; R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz, Symbol and the Symbolic, trans. R. and D. Lawlor, Brookline, Mass., 1978; G. Dumézil, Mythe et épopée, 2 vols., Paris 1968–71 (dealing mostly with myths but of course also symbolism); H. Zimmer, Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization, ed. J. Campbell, New York, 1963; M. Eliade, Images and Symbols, trans. Ph. Mairet, New York, 1961; R. Alleau, La Science des symboles, Paris, 1976; and J. C. Cooper, An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Traditional Symbols, London, 1978.

  • 48.

    For primordial man the symbolized was in fact the symbol since he still lived in the unfragmented reality of the paradisal state. Something of this primordial point of view has survived among some of the so-called primitive peoples among whom the “symbolist spirit” is still alive and who identify in their perception of things the object symbolized and the symbol. This is the reverse of idolatry which reduces the symbol to the physical object which is supposed to symbolize it, while in the perspective in question the object symbolizing an archetypal reality is “elevated” to the level of that reality and becomes a transparent form through which that reality is reflected and manifested.

  • 49.

    “Natural symbolism, which assimilates, for example, the sun to the divine Principle, derives from a ‘horizontal’ correspondence; revealed symbolism, which makes this assimilation spiritually effective—in ancient solar cults and before their ‘petrifaction’—derives from a ‘vertical’ correspondence; the same holds good for gnosis, which reduces phenomena to ‘ideas’ or archetypes. Much might be said here on the natural symbolism of bread and body—or of body and blood—and their ‘sacramentalisation’ by Christ; likewise the sign of the Cross, which expresses with its two dimensions the respective mysteries of the Body and Bread and the Blood and Wine, has, of course, always had its metaphysical sense but received its quasi-sacramental virtue—at least in its specifically Christian form—through the incarnated Word, in other terms, it is necessary for the Avatara to ‘live’ a form in order to make it ‘effective’, and that is why sacred formulae or divine Names must come from Revelation in order to be capable of being ‘realised’.” Schuon, Stations of Wisdom, p. 97.

  • 50.
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