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Chapter Six: The Cosmos as Theophany

Chapter Six: The Cosmos as Theophany

Nel suo profondo vidi che s'interna,

legato con amore in un volume,

ciò che per l'universo si squaderna:

sustanze e accidenti e lor costume

quasi conflati insieme, par tal modo

che cio ch'i' dico è un semplice lume.

In the depth I saw ingathered, bound by love in one single volume, that which is dispersed in leaves throughout the universe: substances and accidents and their relations, as though fused together in such a way that what I tell is but a simple light.1


Although the goal of sacred knowledge is the knowledge of the Sacred as such, that is, of that Reality which lies beyond all cosmic manifestation, there is always that stage of the gathering of the scattered leaves of the book of the universe, to paraphrase Dante, before journeying beyond it. The cosmos plays a positive role in certain types of spirituality that any integral tradition must account for and include in its total perspective, which is not to say that the adept of every kind of spiritual path need study the pages of the cosmic book. But precisely because the cosmos is a book containing a primordial revelation of utmost significance and man a being whose essential, constitutive elements are reflected upon the cosmic mirror and who possesses a profound inner nexus with the cosmic ambience around him, sacred knowledge must also include a knowledge of the cosmos which is not simply an empirical knowledge of nature nor even just a sensibility toward the beauties of nature, no matter how noble this sensibility of the kind expressed by so many English Romantic poets might be.

In the traditional world there is a science of the cosmos—in fact many sciences of the cosmos or cosmological sciences which study various natural and cosmic domains ranging from the stars to minerals, but from the point of view of metaphysical principles. All traditional cosmology is in fact the fruit of the applications of metaphysical principles to different domains of cosmic reality by an intelligence which is itself still wed to the Intellect and has not completely surrendered to sensorial impressions. Such sciences also do deal with the natural world and have produced knowledge of that world which is “scientific” according to the current understanding of this term, but not only scientific.2 Even in these instances, however, the aim of such traditional sciences has been not to produce knowledge of a particular order of reality in a closed system, and cut off from other orders of reality and domains of knowledge, but a knowledge which relates the domain in question to higher orders of reality as that knowledge itself is related to higher orders of knowledge.3 There is such a thing as traditional science distinct from modern science dealing with the same realms and domains of nature which are treated in the sciences today. Yet these traditional sciences, although of much importance in understanding the rise of modern science, which in many cases employed their outward content without comprehending or accepting their world view, have a significance wholly other than the modern sciences of nature.4

The traditional sciences of the cosmos make use of the language of symbolism. They claim to expound a science and not a sentiment or poetic image of the domain which is their concern, but a science which is expounded in the language of symbolism based on the analogy between various levels of existence. In fact, although there are numerous cosmological sciences, sometimes even several dealing with the same realm and within a single tradition, one can speak of a cosmologia perennis which they reflect in various languages of form and symbol, a cosmologia perennis which, in one sense, is the application and, in another, the complement of the sophia perennis which is concerned essentially with metaphysics.

There is also another type of the “study” of the cosmos in the traditional context which complements the first. That is the contemplation of certain natural forms as reflecting Divine Qualities and the vision of the cosmos in divinis. This perspective is based on the power of forms to be occasions for recollection in the Platonic sense and the essential and of course not substantial identity of natural forms with their paradisal origin. Spiritual realization based on the sapiential perspective implies also this “metaphysical transparency of natural forms and objects” as a necessary dimension and aspect of “seeing God everywhere.”5 In reality the traditional cosmological sciences lend themselves to being such a support for contemplation besides making available a veritable science of various realms of the cosmos. What is in fact traditional cosmology but a way of allowing man to contemplate the cosmos itself as an icon! Therefore, both types of knowledge of the cosmos, as viewed from the perspective of sacred knowledge and through eyes which are not cut off from the sanctifying rays of the “eye of the heart,” reveal the cosmos as theophany.6 To behold the cosmos with the eye of the intellect is to see it not as a pattern of externalized and brute facts, but as a theater wherein are reflected aspects of the Divine Qualities, as a myriad of mirrors reflecting the face of the Beloved, as the theophany of that Reality which resides at the Center of the being of man himself. To see the cosmos as theophany is to see the reflection of one-Self in the cosmos and its forms.

In traditions based upon a sacred scripture the cosmos also reveals its meaning as a vast book whose pages are replete with the words of the Author and possess multiple levels of meaning like the revealed book of the religion in question. This perspective is to be found in Judaism and Islam where the eternal Torah and the Quran as the Umm al-kitāb are seen as prototypes of both the revealed book and that other grand book or virgin nature which reflects God's primordial revelation. In Christianity also, where there is greater emphasis upon the Son as Logos than on the book, the vision of the universe as the book of God is not only present but has been repeated through the ages especially in the utterance of those who have belonged to the sapiential perspective. In fact, this view, so majestically depicted by Dante, did not disappear until the inner meaning of revelation itself became inaccessible. Exegesis turned to the interpretation of the outward, literal meaning of the sacred text while cosmic symbols were becoming facts and, instead of revealing the cosmos as theophany, were limiting the reality of the world to the categories of mass and motion. The veiling of pontifical man and his transformation to the Promethean could not but result in the cosmic book becoming illegible and sacred Scripture reduced to only its outward meaning.

In Islam the correspondence between man, the cosmos, and the sacred book is central to the whole religion. The sacred book of Islam is the written or composed Quran (al-Qur'ān al-tadwīnī) as well as the cosmic Quran (al-Qur'ān al-tadwīnī). Its verses are called āyāt which means also signs or symbols to which the Quran itself refers in the verse, “We shall show them our portents upon the horizon [āfāq] and within themselves [anfus], until it be manifest unto them that it is the truth” (XLI; 53).7 The āyāt are the Divine Words and Letters which comprise at once the elements of the Divine Book, the macrocosmic world and the inner being of man. The āyāt manifest themselves in the Holy Book, the horizons (āfāq) or the heavens and earth and the soul of man (anfus). To the extent that the āyāt of the sacred book reveal their inner meaning and man's outer faculty and intelligence become wed once again to the inner faculties and the heart, and man realizes his own being as a sign of God, the cosmos manifests itself as theophany and the phenomena of nature become transformed into the āyāt mentioned by the Quran, the āyāt which are none other than the vestigia Dei which an Albertus Magnus or John Ray sought to discover in their study of natural forms.8 Likewise, the theophanic aspect of virgin nature aids in man's discovery of his own inner being. Nature is herself a divine revelation with its own metaphysics and mode of prayer, but only a contemplative already endowed with sacred knowledge can read the gnostic message written in the most subtle manner upon the cliffs of high mountains, the leaves of the trees,9 the faces of animals and the stars of the sky.

In certain other traditions of a primordial character where the revelation itself is directly related to natural forms as in the tradition of the American Indians, especially those of the Plains, and in Shintoism, the animals and plants are not only symbols of various Divine Qualities but direct manifestations of the Divine Principle in such a way that they play a direct role in the cultic aspect of the religion in question. Moreover, in such traditions there exists a knowledge of nature which is direct and intimate yet inward. The Indian not only sees the bear or the eagle as divine presences but has a knowledge of what one might call the eagle-ness of the eagle and the bear-ness of the bear as if he saw in these beings their Platonic archetypes. The revelation of God in such cases embraces both men and nature in such a way that would be inconceivable for that exteriorized reason of postmedieval man who externalized his alienation from his own inner reality by increasing his sense of aggression and hatred against nature, an aggression made somewhat easier by the excessively rigid distinction made in Western Christianity between the supernatural and the natural. In any case, the animal masks of certain archaic traditions or the waterfalls of Taoist paintings depicting the descent of the One into the plane of multiplicity are neither animism in its pejorative sense nor a naive projection of the human psyche upon creatures of the external world. They are epiphanies of the Sacred based on the most profound knowledge of the very essence of the natural forms involved. They represent a knowledge of the cosmos which is not by any means negated or abrogated by what physics may discover about the dynamics of a waterfall or anatomy about the animal in question. One wonders who knows more about the coyote, the zoologist who is able to study its external habit and dissect its cadaver or the Indian medicine man who identifies himself with the “spirit” of the coyote?10

Not only do the traditional sciences of the cosmos study the forms of nature with respect to their essential archetypes and do contemplatives within these traditions view the phenomena of virgin nature as theophanies, but also the astounding harmony of the natural world is seen as a direct result and consequence of that sacrifice of the primordial man described in different metaphysical or mythical languages in various traditions. The unbelievable harmony which pervades the world, linking the life cycles of fishes on the bottom of tropical oceans to land creatures roaming northern tundras in an incredible pattern, has been all but neglected by Western science until very recent times. But it forms an important element of that traditional science of nature which, whether in terms of the Pythagorean theory of harmony related to the World Soul or in other terms, remains always aware of that harmony between animals, plants, and minerals, between the creatures of various climes and also between the physical, subtle, and spiritual realms of beings which make the life of the cosmos possible. This harmony, whose grand contour has been only partly revealed by some recent ecological studies, is like the harmony of the parts of the human body as well as of the body, soul, and spirit of pontifical or traditional man and, in fact, is profoundly related to this concretely experienced harmony of man because this latter type of harmony, like that of the cosmos, is derived from the perfect harmony of the being of the Universal Man who is the prototype of both man and the cosmos. If the cosmos is a crystallization of the sounds of music and musical harmony a key for the understanding of the structure of the cosmos from planetary motion to quantum energy levels, it is because harmony dwelt in the very being of that archetypal reality through which all things were made. If God is a geometer who provides the measure by which all things are made, He is also the musician who has provided the harmony by which all things live and function and which is exhibited in a blinding and miraculous fashion in the cosmos.

The cosmos has of course its own laws and rhythms. Modern science speaks of laws of nature and even in modern physics, although this concept has been modified, the idea of statistical laws dominating over aggregates remains while the laws of macrophysics continue to be studied as the proper subject of science. Through a long history related to the rise of the idea of natural law as opposed to revealed law in the Christian tradition, whose own laws were in fact general spiritual and moral injunctions rather than a detailed codified law as in Judaism and Islam, a cleavage was created in the mind of Western man between laws of nature and spiritual principles. While the integral Christian tradition was alive in the Middle Ages, the cleavage was overcome by sapiential and even theological teachings such as those of Erigena and Saint Thomas which related natural laws themselves to God's Wisdom and Power. Nevertheless there was no Divine Law in the sense of the Islamic Sharī‘ah within Christianity itself which could be seen in its cosmic aspect to include the laws according to which other beings in the cosmos function. The cleavage was never totally overcome so that with the advent of the revolt against the medieval synthesis during the Renaissance, the “laws of nature” and the “laws of God” as found in religion began to part ways to the extent that viewing the laws whose functioning is to be observed everywhere in the cosmos as Divine Law became soon outmoded and relegated to the pejorative category of “anthropomorphism.” Moreover, since Christianity emphasizes the importance of the unparalleled event of the birth of Christ and his miraculous life, the evidence of religion seemed to many a European mind to rely upon the miracle which breaks the regularity of the laws observed in nature, whereas that regularity itself is no less evidence of the primacy of the Logos and the Wisdom of God reflected in His creation.11 The fact that the sun does rise every morning is, from the sapiential point of view, as much a cause for wonder as if it were to rise in the West tomorrow.

It is of interest to note how Islam views this same subject of law. The Quranic revelation brought not only as set of ethical practices and a spiritual path for its followers but also a Divine Law, the Sharī‘ah, by which all Muslims must live as the means of surrendering their will to God's will.12 By extension the Sharī‘ah is seen by Muslims as embracing all orders of creation and corresponding to what is understood in Western intellectual history as “laws of nature.” Many an Islamic source has spoken of the Divine Law of this or that animal.13 Interestingly enough, the Greek word for cosmic law, nomos, which reached Muslims through translations of Greek texts, especially of the Laws of Plato, became Arabized as nāmūs—the Laws of Plato itself being called Kitāb al-nawāmīs. Through such figures as al-Fārābī in his Āra' ahl al-maḍīnat al-fāḍilah (The Views of the Inhabitants of the Virtuous State),14 it entered into the mainstream of Islamic thought and its meaning became practically synonymous with the Sharī‘ah. To this day Muslim philosophers and theologians, as well as simple preachers in the pulpit, speak of the nāwāmīs al-anbiyā', the Divine Laws brought by the prophets and nāmūs al-khilqah, the Divine Law which governs creation. There is no difference of nature between them. God has promulgated a law for each species of being and order of creatures which for man becomes religious law or the Sharī‘ah as understood in its ordinary sense. The only difference is that other creatures have not been given the gift of free will and therefore cannot rebel against the laws which GoËd has meant for them, against their “nature”15 while man, being the theomorphic creature that he is, participates also in the Divine Freedom and can revolt against God's laws and himself. From a metaphysical point of view the rebellion of man against Heaven is itself proof of man's being made “in the image of God,” to use the traditional formulation.

In this crucial question as in so many others, the Islamic perspective joins that of other Oriental traditions where no sharp distinction is made between the laws governing man and those governing the cosmos. The Tao is the origin of all things, the law governing each order of existence and every individual being within that order. Each being has its own Tao. Likewise dharma is not limited to man; all creatures have their own dharma. From the point of view of scientia sacra all laws are reflections of the Divine Principle. For man to discover any “law of nature” is to gain some knowledge of the ontological reality of the domain with which he is concerned. Moreover, the discovery of such laws is always through man's own intelligence and the use of logic which reflects an aspect of his own ontological reality. Therefore, in an ultimate sense, the study of the “laws of nature” is inseparable from the study of the reality of that Universal Man or macrocosmic reality whose reflection comprises the cosmos. It is a study of man himself. To study the laws of the cosmos, like studying its harmony or the beauty of its forms, is a way of self-discovery provided the subject carrying out such a study does not live in a truncated order of reality in which the study of the external world serves only to fragment further man's soul and alienate him from himself, creating, paradoxically enough, a world in which man himself no longer has a place.

What pertains to cosmic laws also holds true for causes which are reduced to the purely material in modern science as if the material order of reality could be totally divorced from other cosmic and metacosmic orders. The traditional sciences take into consideration not only the material or immediate causes of things but also the nonmaterial and ultimate ones. Even the four Aristotelian causes, the formal, material, efficient, and final, are systematized approximations of all the causes involved in bringing about any effect, for these causes include not only what is outwardly understood by the formal, efficient, and final causes but all that such causes mean metaphysically. The formal cause includes the origin of a particular form in the archetypal world, the efficient cause the grades of being which finally result in the existentiation of a particular existent, and the final cause a hierarchy of beings belonging to higher orders of reality that terminates with the Ultimate Cause which is the Real as such. It is in fact in this perspective that many later metaphysical rather than only rationalistic commentators of Aristotle viewed the significance of the Aristotelian four causes.

In any case, the causes which are responsible for various effects in the natural world are not limited to the natural world but embrace all orders of being, Moreover, these causes operate within man himself and between man and his cosmic environment. Each being in fact is related by a set of causes to the milieu in which it exists, the two being inseparable.16 Man is bound to his world not only by the set of physical causes which bind him to that world but also by metaphysical ones. The net of causality is much vaster than that cast by those sciences which would limit the cosmos to only its material aspect and man to a complex combination of the same material factors caught in the mesh of that external environment which penetrates within him and determines his behavior and manner of being. Modern behaviorism is in many ways a parody of the Hindu doctrine of karma which expresses the central importance of causality in the domain of manifestation without either limiting it to only the psycho-physical realm or denying the possibility of deliverance, or mokśa, from all chains of cause and effect, even those belonging to higher levels of existence. To behold the cosmos as theophany is not to deny either the laws or the chain of cause and effect which pervade the cosmos but to view the cosmos and the forms it displays with such diversity and regularity as reflections of Divine Qualities and ontological categories rather than a veil which would hide the splendor of the face of the Beloved.

To achieve such a goal and see the cosmos as theophany and not veil, it is necessary to return again and again to the truth that reality is hierarchic, that the cosmos is not exhausted by its physical aspect alone. All traditional cosmologies are based in one way or another on this axial truth. Their goal is to present in an intelligible fashion the hierarchy of existence as reflected in the cosmos. The “great chain of being” of the Western tradition, which survived in the West until it became horizontalized and converted from a ladder to Heaven to an evolutionary stream moving toward God knows where,17 was a synthesis of this idea which has its equivalence in Islam,18 India, and elsewhere, even if not as thoroughly elaborated in all traditions. The cosmologies which appeal to the immediate experience of the cosmos by terrestrial man have no other aim but to convey this metaphysical and central truth concerning the multiple states of existence in a vivid and concrete fashion. Cosmologies based on Ptolemaic astronomy or other astronomical schemes based on the way the cosmos presents itself to man are not in any way invalidated by the rejection of this geocentric scheme for the heliocentric one, because they make use of the immediate experience of the natural world as symbol rather than fact, a symbol whose meaning like that of any other symbol cannot be grasped through logical or mathematical analysis.

If one understands what symbols mean, one cannot claim that medieval cosmologies are false as a result of the fact that if we were standing on the sun we would observe the earth moving around it. The fact remains that we are not standing on the sun and if the cosmos, from the vantage point of the earth where we were born, does possess a symbolic significance, surely it would be based on how it appears to us as we stand on earth. To think otherwise would be to destroy the symbolic significance of the cosmos. It would be like wanting to understand the meaning of a maṇḍala by looking at it under a microscope. In doing so one would discover a great deal about the texture of the material upon which the maṇḍala has been drawn but nothing about the symbolic significance of the maṇḍala which was drawn with the assumption that it would be looked upon with the normal human eye. Of course, in the case of the cosmos the other ways of envisaging and studying it, as long as they conform to some aspect of cosmic reality, also possess their own profound symbolism—such as, for example, the heliocentric system, which was in fact known long before Copernicus, or the vast dark intergalactic spaces—but the destruction of the immediate symbolism of the cosmos as it presents itself to man living on earth cannot but be catastrophic.

To look upon the vast vault of the heavens as if one lived on the sun creates a disequilibrium which cannot but result in the destruction of that very earth that modern man abstracted himself from in order to look upon the solar system from the vantage point of the sun in the absolute space of classical physics. This disequilibrium would not necessarily have resulted had the type of man who rejected the earth-centered view of the cosmos been the solar figure, the image of the supernal Apollo, the Pythagorean sage, who in fact knew of the heliocentric astronomy without this knowledge causing a disruption in his world view. But paradoxically enough, this being who abstracted himself from the earth to look upon the cosmos from the sun, through that most direct symbol of the Divine Intellect, was the Promethean man who had rebelled against Heaven. The consequences could, therefore, not be anything but tragic.

The destruction of the outward symbol of traditional cosmologies destroyed for Western man the reality of the hierarchic structure of the universe which these cosmologies symbolized and which remains independent of any particular type of symbolism used to depict it. This structure could be and in fact has been expressed by other means, ranging from traditional music which reflects the structure of the cosmos to mathematical patterns of various kinds to metaphysical expositions not directly bound to a particular astronomical symbolism. The exposition of the hierarchic levels of reality as the “five Divine Presences” (al-haḍarāt al-ilāhiyyat al-khams) by the Sufis, such as Ibn ‘Arabī, is a perfect example of this latter kind.19 Ibn ‘Arabī speaks of each principal order of reality as a haḍrah or “Divine Presence” because, metaphysically speaking, being or reality is none other than presence (haḍrah) or consciousness (shuhūd). These presences include the Divine Ipseity Itself (hāhūt), the Divine Names and Qualities (lāhūt), the archangelic world (jabarūt), the subtle and psychic world (malakūt), and the physical world (mulk).20 Each higher world contains the principles of that which lies below it and lacks nothing of the lower level of reality. That is why in God one is separate from nothing. Although these presences possess further inner divisions within themselves, they represent in a simple fashion the major level of cosmic existence and metacosmic reality without there being the need to have recourse to a particular astronomical symbolism. This does not mean, however, that certain other later cosmologists did not point to correlations between these presences and various levels of the hierarchic cosmological schemes that still possessed meaning for those who beheld them.

In Islam we encounter numerous cosmological schemes associated with the Peripatetics, Illuminationists, the Isma‘īlīs, alchemical authors like Jābir ibn Hayyān, Pythagoreans, various schools of Sufism, and of course the cosmologies based upon the language and text of the Quran and related to its inner meaning, which served as source of inspiration and principle for the other cosmologies drawn from diverse sources.21 But throughout all of these cosmological schemes, there remains the constant theme of the hierarchic universe manifested by the Divine Principle and related intimately to the inner being of man. The same theme is found at the center of those sometimes bewildering cosmologies found in India, in Kabbalistic and Hermetic texts, in the oral traditions of the American Indians, in what survives of ancient Sumerian and Babylonian religions, among the Egyptians, and practically everywhere else.22 The diversity of symbolism is great but the presence of the vision of the cosmos as a hierarchic reality bound to the Origin and related to man not only outwardly but also inwardly persists as elements of what we referred to earlier as cosmologia perennis. This vision is that of pontifical man and therefore has had to be present wherever and whenever pontifical man, who is none other than traditional man, has lived and functioned.

Likewise, these traditional cosmologies as perceived within the sapiential perspective have been concerned with providing a map of the cosmos as well as depicting it as an icon to be contemplated and as symbol of metaphysical truth. The cosmos is not only the theater wherein are reflected the Divine Names and Qualities. It is also a crypt through which man must journey to reach the Reality beyond cosmic manifestation. In fact man cannot contemplate the cosmos as theophany until he has journeyed through and beyond it.23 That is why the traditional cosmologies are also concerned with providing man with a map which would orient him within the cosmos and finally enable him to escape beyond the cosmos through that miraculous act of deliverance with which so many myths have been concerned.24 From this point of view the cosmos appears as a labyrinth through which man must journey in a perilous adventure where literally all that he is and all that he has is at stake, a journey for which all traditions require both the map of traditional knowledge and the spiritual guide who has himself journeyed before through this labyrinth.25 It is only by actually experiencing the perilous journey through the cosmic labyrinth that man is able to gain a vision of that cathedral of celestial beauty which is the Divine Presence in its metacosmic splendor.26

Having journeyed through and beyond the cosmos, man, who is then “twice born” and a “dead man walking” in the sense of being spiritually resurrected here and now, is able finally to contemplate the cosmos and its forms as theophany.27 He is able to see the forms of nature in divinis and to experience the Ultimate Reality not as transcendent and beyond but as here and now.28 It is here that the cosmos unveils its inner beauty ceasing to be only externalized fact or phenomenon but becoming immediate symbol, the reflection of the noumenon, the reflection which is not separated but essentially none other than the reality reflected. The cosmos becomes, to use the language of Sufism, so many mirrors in which the various aspects of the Divine Names and Qualities and ultimately the One are reflected. The Arabic word tajallī means nothing but this reflection of the Divine in the mirror of the cosmos which, metaphysically speaking, is the mirror of nothingness.29 Objects appear not only as abstract symbols but as concrete presence. For the sage a particular tree is not only a symbol of the grade of being which he has come to know through his intelligence and the science of symbolism that his intelligence has enabled him to grasp. It is also a tree of paradise conveying a presence and grace of a paradisal nature.

This immediate experience, however, is not only not separate from the science of symbols, of sacred geometry, and of the significance of certain sacred forms, but it provides that immediate intuition which only increases the grasp of such sciences and makes possible their application to concrete situations. Zen gardens are based on the science of sacred geometry and the metaphysical significance of certain forms but cannot be created by just anyone who might have a manual on the symbolism of space or rock formations. The great gardens are expressions of realized knowledge leading to the awareness of natural forms as “presence of the Void,” which in turn has made possible the application of this knowledge to specific situations resulting in some of the greatest creations of sacred art. The same rapport can be found mutatis mutandis elsewhere in traditions which do not emphasize as much as Zen knowledge of natural forms as immediate experience but where complete teachings in the cosmological sciences are available. Everywhere the knowledge of cosmic symbols goes hand in hand with that direct experience of a spiritual presence which results from spiritual realization, although there are always individual cases where a person may be given the gift of experiencing some aspect of the cosmos or a particular natural form as theophany without a knowledge of the science of symbolism or, as is more common in the modern world, a person may have the aptitude to understand the meaning of symbols, which is itself a precious gift from Heaven, but lack spiritual realization and therefore lack the possibility of ever experiencing the cosmos as theophany. In the sapiential perspective, in any case, the two types of appreciation of cosmic realities usually go hand in hand, and certainly in the case of the masters of gnosis, complement each other.

Of special significance among cosmological symbols which are related to the contemplation of the cosmos as theophany and the experience of the presence of the sacred in the natural order are those connected with space. Space and time along with form, matter or substance, and number determine the condition of human existence and in fact of all existence in this world. Tradition therefore deals with all of them and transforms all of them in order to create that sacred world in which traditional man breathes. The symbolism of number is revealed through its qualitative aspect as viewed in the Pythagorean tradition, and certain theosophers in the West have even spoken of an “arithmosophy” to be contrasted with arithmetic. Form and matter are sacralized through their symbolic rapport and their relation to the archetypal realities reflected by forms on the one hand and the descent or congelation of existence, which on the physical plane appears as matter or substance,30 on the other. The nature of time is understood in its relation to eternity and the rhythms and cycles which reflect higher orders of reality, as we shall see in the next chapter. Finally space, which is central as the “container” of all that comprises terrestrial existence, is viewed not as the abstract, purely quantitative extension of classical physics but as a qualitative reality which is studied through sacred geometry.

Qualitative space is modified by the presence of the sacred itself. Its directions are not the same; its properties are not uniform. While in its empty vastness it symbolizes the Divine All-Possibility and also the Divine Immutability, it is the progenitor of all the geometric forms which are so many projections of the geometric point and so many reflections of the One, each regular geometric form symbolizing a Divine Quality.31 If Plato specified that only geometers could enter into the temple of Divine Knowledge, it was because, as Proclus was to assert in his commentary upon the Elements of Euclid, geometry is an ancillary to metaphysics.32 The orientation of cultic acts, the construction of traditional architecture, and many of the traditional sciences cannot be understood without grasping the significance of the traditional conception of qualified space. What is the experience of space for the Muslim who turns to a particular point on earth, wherever he might be, and then is blessed one day to enter into the Ka‘bah itself beyond the polarization created upon the whole earth by this primordial temple built to celebrate the presence of the One? Why are the remarkable Neolithic structures of Great Britain round and why do the Indians believe that the circle brings strength? Most remarkable of all is the immediate experience of a wholly other kind of space within a sacred precinct. How did the architects of the medieval cathedrals create a sacred space which is the source of profound experience even for those Christians who no longer follow their religion fully? In all these and numerous other instances what is involved is the application of a traditional science of space which makes possible the actualization of a sacred presence and also the contemplation of an element of the cosmic reality as theophany. It is through this science of qualified space that traditional science and art meet and that cosmological science and experience of the sacred become wed in those places of worship, rites, cites of pilgrimage, and many other elements which are related to the very heart of tradition.

This science is closely associated with what has been called “sacred geography” or even “geosophy,” that symbolic science of location and space concerned with the qualitative aspects of points on earth and the association of different terrestrial sites with traditional functions, ranging from the location of sanctuaries, burial sites, and places of worship to places for the erection of gardens, planting of trees, and the like in that special form of sacred art associated with the Japanese garden and the traditional art of the Persian garden with all its variations, ranging from Spanish gardens to the Mogul ones of India. The science of sacred geography ranges from, on the one hand, popular and often folkloric practices of geomancy in China to the most profound sensitivity to the grace of the Divine Presence which manifests itself in certain natural forms and locations on the other.

This science is thus closely allied to that particular kind of sapience which is wed to the metaphysics of nature and that spiritual type among human beings who is sensitive to the barakah or grace that flows in the arteries of the universe. Such a person is drawn by this barakah into the empyrean of spiritual ecstasy like an eagle that flies without moving its wings upon an air current which carries it upward toward the illimitable expanses of the heavenly vault. For such a person nature is the supreme work of sacred art; in traditions based upon such a perspective, like Islam or the American Indian tradition, virgin nature as created by God is the sanctuary par excellence. The mosque of the Muslim is the earth itself as long as it has not been defiled by man, and the building called the mosque only extends the ambience of this primordial mosque which is virgin nature into the artificial urban environment created by man. Likewise, for the American Indian, that wilderness of enchanting beauty which was the American continent before the advent of the white man was the cathedral in which he worshiped and wherein he observed the greatest works of art of the Supreme Artisan, of Wakan-Tanka. This perspective, moreover, is not limited to only certain traditions but is to be found in one way or another within all integral traditions. This sensitivity to the barakah of nature and the contemplation of the cosmos as theophany cannot but be present wherever pontifical man lives and breathes, for nature is a reflection of that paradisal state that man still carries within the depth of his own being.

Such a vision has, needless to say, become blurred and is denied in the world of Promethean man whose eminently successful science of nature has blinded human beings to possibilities of other sciences and other means of beholding and understanding nature. Moreover, this negation and denial has occurred despite the fact that the cosmos has not completely followed man in his rapid fall. It might be said that, although both nature and man have fallen from that state of perfection characterized as the paradisal state, what still remains of virgin nature is closer to that prototype than the type of Promethean man who increases his domination upon the earth every day. That is why what does remain of virgin nature is so precious not only ecologically but also spiritually. It is the only reminder left on earth of the normal condition of existence and a permanent testament to the absurdity of all those modern pretensions which reveal their true nature only when seen in the light of the truth. Excluding revealed truth, nothing in the orbit of human experience unveils the real nature of the modern world and the premises upon which it is based more than the cosmos, ranging from the starry heavens to the plants at the bottom of the seas. That is why Promethean man has such an aggressive hatred for virgin nature; why also the love of nature is the first sign among many contemporaries of their loss of infatuation with that model of man who began his plunder of the earth some five centuries ago.

During the last few years so many critiques have been written of modern science and its recent handmaid, technology,33 that one hardly needs to go once again into all the arguments ranging from the ecological and demographic to the epistemological and theological. In any case that would require a major separate study of its own. But to bring out fully the meaning of the traditional sciences of nature and the significance of the cosmos as theophany, it is necessary to recapitulate the main points of criticism made of modern science by the traditional authorities and from the traditional point of view. The first point to assert in order to remove all possible misunderstanding is that the traditional criticisms against modern science are not based on sentiments, fanaticism, illogicality, or any of the other terms with which anyone who criticizes modern science is usually associated. The traditional critique is based on intellectual criteria in the light of the metaphysical truth which alone can claim to be knowledge of a complete and total nature.34 That is why traditional authors never deny the validity of what modern science has actually discovered provided it is taken for what it is. The knowledge of any order of reality is legitimate provided it remains bound to that order and within the limits set upon it by both its method and its subject matter. But this would in turn imply accepting another science or manner of knowing which, being of a more universal nature, would set the boundary within which that science could function legitimately.

Herein lies the first and foremost criticism of modern science. In declaring its independence of metaphysics or any other science, modern science has refused to accept the authority which would establish the boundary for its legitimate activity. That is why despite all the pious platitudes and even well-intentioned and earnest pleading of honest scientists, modern science does transgress beyond the realm which is properly its own and serves as background for monstrous philosophical generalizations which, although not at all scientific but scientistic, feed upon the tenets and findings of the sciences and the fact that modern science has signed its declaration of independence from metaphysics. Moreover, by token of the same fact, the metaphysical significance of scientific discoveries remains totally neglected by the supposedly scientifically minded public which usually knows very little about science but is mesmerized by it. And here again, despite the loud protests of some reputable scientists, instead of the metascientific significance of what science has actually discovered becoming revealed, the reverse process takes place whereby, through wild interpolations and usually well-hidden assumptions, metaphysical truths become rejected in the name of scientific knowledge. What tradition opposes in modern science is not that it knows so much about the social habits of ants or the spin of the electron but that it knows nothing of God while functioning in a world in which it alone is considered as science or objective knowledge.

This divorce of science from metaphysics is closely related to the reduction of the knowing subject to the cogito of Descartes. It is usually forgotten that despite all the changes in the field of modern physics, the subject which knows, whether the content of that knowledge be the pendulum studied by Galileo or wave functions of electrons described mathematically by de Broglie, is still that reason which was identified by Descartes with the individual human ego who utters cogito. The other modes of consciousness and manners of operation of the mind are never considered in modern science. The findings of that reason which is wed once again to the Intellect and that mind which is illuminated by the light of the “eye of the heart” is not considered as science at all, especially as this term is used in the English language.35 Hence, the irrevocable limitation of a science caught within the mesh of the functioning of only a part of the human mind but dealing with a subject of vast import which it then seeks to solve in manners that are characteristically “unscientific,” namely, intuition, artistic beauty, harmony, and the like. Many first-rate scientists, in contrast to most philosophers of science, would in fact accept our contention that, if one considers all that which is called science has achieved even in modern times, one cannot speak of the “scientific method” but has to accept the assertion that science is what scientists do, which might include playing with possibilities of musical harmony to solve certain physical problems.

Despite the reality of this assertion, however, the rationalism inherent in what the modern world considers to be science continues and has had its lethal effect upon the humanities, the social sciences, and even philosophy and theology. Strangely enough, precisely because of the inherent limitation of the original epistemological premises of modern science, more and more modern science has come to see in the objective world not what is there but what it has wanted to see, selecting what conforms to its methods and approaches and then presenting it as the knowledge of reality as such. Modern men, influenced by science, think that according to the scientific point of view one should only believe what one can see, whereas what has actually happened is that science has come to see what it believes according to its a priori assumptions concerning what there is to be seen.36 This epistemological limitation combined with the lack of general accessibility in the West since the rise of modern science to that scientia sacra of which we have spoken, has prevented this science from being integrated into higher orders of knowledge with tragic results for the human race. In fact, only a high degree of contemplative intelligence can enable man to look upon the sun and see at once the visible symbol of the Divine Intellect and an incandescent mass diffusing energy in all directions.37

These limitations of modern science are to be seen also in its neglect of the higher states of being and its treatment of the physical world as if it were an independent order of reality. This neglect of the unmanifested and in fact nonphysical aspects of reality has not only impoverished the vision of cosmic reality in a world dominated by scientism, but it has caused confusion between vertical and horizontal causes and brought about incredible caricatures of the cosmic reality as a result of relegating to the physical domain forces and causes which belong to higher orders of existence. It is not accidental that the more physics advances in its own domain, the more does it become aware of its need for another complete paradigm which would take into consideration domains of reality that many physicists feel almost intuitively to exist, but which have been cast aside from the world view of classical and modern physics.38

One of the consequences of this systematic neglect of higher orders of existence has been the denial of life as an animating principle or energy which has penetrated into the physical realm. Rather, life is seen as an accidental consequence of molecular motion according to that well-known reductionist point of view that does not realize that if life or consciousness “result” from certain activities of molecules and their combinations, they must either have already been present there in some way or come from elsewhere.

This difficulty in solving the question of the origin and meaning of life, despite its being discussed over the centuries by vitalists and mechanists, is related to the desacralization of the world which became the subject matter of seventeenth-century science and the gradual deformation and finally destruction of the concept of the World Soul. In all traditional cosmologies there is an Anima mundi or its equivalent like the Janna Caeli of antiquity, Spenta Armaiti of Mazdaean cosmology, or the Universal Soul (al-nafs al-kulliyyah) of Islamic sources. This soul must not of course be confused with the immanent Deity, and belief in the World Soul does not imply a kind of pantheism. But the World Soul played a major cosmological function as the soul of the natural order and its link with the Intellect. It also had a central epistemological role as the Divine Sophia identified often with the Virgin Mary as the Theotokos, the Soul in which the Son of the Intellect is born, or as Fāṭimah who is the mother of the Imams who embody and symbolize the Divine Light.

In the West the World Soul was typified by the Virgin. Its expulsion from the world of modern man, which was also a direct consequence of Cartesian dualism, was almost synchronous with the loss of the significance of Mary in the rites and doctrines of the Christian churches of those countries where the scientific world view was developing most rapidly.39 Gradually, the very idea of animated meaning “possessing a soul” or “ensouled” (enpsychos) was replaced by “moved” (kinētos) which soon came to mean moved by history. The Anima mundi or Weltgeist became the Zeitgeist of Hegel and the other dialectical philosophers. Instead of the cosmos being animated by a soul which was its intermediary link with the Intellect as we find in many traditional schools of cosmology and philosophy especially in Islam,40 it became the passive instrument of an ambiguous Zeitgeist which could not but mean the apparent tyranny of becoming over Being Itself, if one is permitted such an elliptical formulation. The consequence of this change for religion as such was immense. It was not long before men began to change the very rites and doctrines of religion not according to the inspiration received from the Holy Ghost or Heilige Geist but from the Zeitgeist, or “the times” with which everyone tries to keep up.

Moreover, this impoverishment of the reality with which modern science deals removed from the consciousness of modern man, influenced by this science and the philosophies derived from it, the reality of that intermediate world which has been traditionally referred to as the imaginal world to which we had occasion to refer before. Without this world which stands between the purely intelligible and the physical world and which possesses its own nonmaterial forms, there is no possibility of a total and complete cosmology nor of the explanation of certain traditional teachings concerning eschatology. Nor is it possible to comprehend those mysterious cities and palaces, those mountains and streams which appear in both traditional myths and cosmological schemes. Where is the Holy Mountain wherein is to be found the Grail? Where are those cities of the imaginal world which in Islam are called Jābulqā and Jābulsā41 and which Suhrawardī considered to exist in the eighth clime, in that land of “no-where” which he called nā kujā ābād, literally u-topia? When the eighth clime was destroyed, the gnostic and visionary u-topia could not but become the utopia of those European secularists and atheists who, often aided by certain messianic ideas, sought to establish the kingdom of God on earth without God, as if the good without the Good had any meaning. When the Weltgeist became Zeitgeist, history replaced the Divinity, and nā kujā ābād, instead of being the abode of the gnostic in which he contemplated paradisal forms, became the Utopia in whose name so much of what has remained of tradition has been destroyed throughout the world.

This neglect of the multiple levels of existence by the modern scientific perspective has forced the exponents of this science to take recourse to belief in the uniformity of “laws of nature” over long periods of time and expanses of space. This theory which is called “uniformitarianism” and which underlies all those geological and paleontological speculations which speak of millions of years past was rapidly promoted from the status of hypothesis to that of “scientific law”; and when most honest scientists are asked on what basis do they believe that the laws of nature, the so-called constants of the law of gravitation, the law of electromagnetic theory or quantum jumps have always been the same, they answer that since there is no other choice they have adopted the uniformitarian thesis. Actually from the modern scientific point of view itself there is of course no other way of speaking about what was going on in the planetary systems eons ago except by considering the laws of physics to be uniform and simply admitting that this science cannot provide an answer to such questions without extrapolating cosmic and natural laws back into earlier periods of time or into the future. Of course it is not the physical conditions which modern science assumes to have been the same but the laws and forces which bring about different physical conditions at different times while supposedly remaining uniform themselves. As far as these laws and forces are concerned, whatever means are employed by modern science to check whether or not there were changes in such laws and forces in the past are themselves based on the condition of the uniformity of the laws and forces used to carry out the process of checking. A science aware of its limits would at least distinguish between what it means to say that the specific weight of aluminum is such and such or how many protons are found in the nucleus of a helium atom and to claim that such and such an astronomical event occurred 500 million years ago or a particular geological formation was formed so many millions or even billions of years ago. One wonders what exactly the word year means in such a statement and what assumptions are made upon the nature of reality to give the kind of definition of years which is usually given when a question such as this is posed to a scientist.

What is most unfortunate from the traditional point of view in this presumptuous extrapolation of physical laws to include long stretches of time, and in fact all time as such, is that it results in the total neglect and even negation of cosmic rhythms, the qualitatively different conditions which prevail in the cosmos in different moments of the cosmic cycle and that absorption of the whole physical world into its subtle principle at the end of a cosmic cycle. The denial of the traditional doctrine of cycles or even one cycle which ends with the majestic and tremendous events described in all sacred scriptures and associated with eschatology is one of the greatest shortcomings of modern science because it has made eschatology to appear as unreal. It has helped destroy in the name of scientific logic, but in reality as a result of a presumptuous extrapolation based on metaphysical ignorance, the reality of that vision of ultimate ends which gives significance to human life and which over the ages has had the most profound effect upon the behavior of man as an ethical being. It has also destroyed in the minds of those affected by scientism the grandeur of creation and the meaning of the sacrifice of primordial man. That is why this science has been so impervious to the amazing harmony that pervades the heavens and the earth. Where does this harmony come from? This question, which is metaphysical but which has profound scientific consequences, has been left unanswered as a result of the hypothesis of uniformitarianism which is metaphysically absurd but which passes as scientific law as a result of the loss of vision of the hierarchic universe and understanding of cosmic rhythms.

Also, closely related to this loss of the awareness of the vertical dimension of existence, is the reductionism so characteristic of modern science which we have had occasion to mention already in conjunction with the process of the desacralization of knowledge. From the point of view of scientia sacra, this reductionism is the inversion of the traditional doctrine according to which each higher state of existence “contains” the lower, the Principle containing the root of all that is real in all realms of metacosmic and cosmic existence. In this reversal of the normal rapport between grades of being, the Spirit is reduced to the psyche, the psyche to biological form, living forms to aggregates of material components, etc. Of course one cannot lay the responsibility for all the levels of this reductionism at the feet of physics; but even on the nonmaterial levels, the effect of a purely phenomenal science wed to the sensually verifiable is to be observed, as, for example, the reduction of the Spirit to the psyche so characteristic of the modern world and concern with proofs of the existence of not only the psychic but also the spiritual through various experiments which indirectly emulate the physical sciences.42

To be sure, a group of biologists and others concerned with the life sciences have at least tried to resist this reductionism on the level of life forms, for those who are concerned with such sciences know fully well how the whole is a totally other entity than its parts, that form signifies a reality which is irreducible to its physical or chemical components and that the energy associated with life functions differently from material energy. This “morphic” science, to quote the terminology used by L. L. Whyte,43 is closely akin to the Naturphilosophie tradition and is fully supported by such important biologists as A. Portmann,44 who has opposed scientific reductionism as far as “forms” are concerned. In fact there is a whole critique of modern science based on this perspective and the quest for the study of forms of nature from a wholistic point of view;45 but the fact that such a critique has been made does not hide the fact that reductionism continues to be associated with modern science, and especially with the world view of its popularizers, and that this reductionism is one of the main obstacles which prevents modern man from seeing the reflection of the hierarchy of existence in the mirror of cosmic manifestation.

This reductionism has its opposite but complementary pole in the completely unjustifiable generalization of science and its findings in such a way that it passes itself off as a science of things as such or metaphysics and, despite the denial of many of its practitioners, plays the role of a theology while hiding the presence of God and drawing a veil over the vestiges of God upon the face of His creation. Being a science of the world wed to a particular manner of envisaging and studying the external, modern science nevertheless claims absoluteness as the science of the world as it is, which could not but be the function of a “divine science.” Hence it cannot but usurp the place of metaphysics and theology for those who see in it the only possible way of gaining certitude while everything else appears to them as conjecture.46

A science which thus reduces the scope of both knowledge and reality to its particular manner of envisaging the world, and that aspect of the world which can be envisaged by its way of seeing things, cannot but aid in the secularization of the world and the spread of agnosticism. This is especially true since this science functions in a world in which its tenets become almost automatically generalized far beyond the confines acceptable to many scientists themselves because this “world” is already one molded to a great extent by the generalization of scientific thought, especially in its earlier seventeenth-century form. By refusing to consider the several facets of a particular reality and by reducing symbols to facts, this science cannot but contribute to that agnosticism and desacralization of knowing and being which characterizes the modern world,47 although such would not necessarily have had to be the case had this type of science been integrated into knowledge of a higher order.

The traditional perspective sees as the reason behind these limitations of modern science a concept of nature which goes back even before the seventeenth century to the traditional schools of Christian thought where, despite a Hildegard of Bingen, Saint Francis, or Saint Bonaventure,48 a kind of polemical attitude was entertained toward nature at least in the official theology.49 It was in Christian Hermeticism and alchemy that one had to seek an integral vision of nature and its spiritual significance.50 The quantification of nature by the seventeenth-century physics was carried out upon a natural order which was already depleted of its sacred presence. But this science rapidly accentuated this alienation of man from nature and the mutilation of nature whose catastrophic results now face contemporary man. The mainstream of Western thought saw in nature an obstacle to the love of God. Furthermore, Promethean man and the humanism associated with him had an innate hatred for nature as a reality possessing its own harmony, equilibrium, and beauty not invented or created by man and opposed in principle to the tenets of humanism. These elements, added to the more active than contemplative mentality of Western man, especially in the modern period, complemented each other to make possible that disrupting and finally destructive relationship which Western man has entertained vis-à-vis nature at the expense of veiling its sacramental qualities and its revelatory function as theophany.

That is why there is and there must be another science of nature which is not metaphysics or scientia sacra itself but its application to the realm of nature. Such a science would not exclude what is positive in modern science but would not be bound by its limitations.51 It would not veil but reveal the theophanic character of the cosmos and relate the knowledge of the sensible domain to higher levels of reality and finally to Reality as such.52 It would be a science whose matrix would be the Intellect and not the dissected ratio associated with the Cartesian cogito. Such a science existed already in traditional civilizations and embraced their sciences of the sensible order which in many cases were of considerable breadth and depth. Its principles are still to be found in scientia sacra from which could be created a science to embrace and integrate the sciences of nature of today once they are shorn of the rationalistic and reductionist propositions, which do not have to be their background, but which have accompanied them since their birth during the Scientific Revolution. Only such an embrace can nullify the disruptive and, in fact, dissolving effect of a partial knowledge which parades as total knowledge or is paraded by others as such. Those “others” include not only scientistic philosophers but many philosophers and historians of science infected by a dogmatic positivism53 and a number of modern mystifiers and pseudognostics who, instead of integrating science into the gnostic vision, have mutilated the verities of gnosis into a pseudoscientific science fiction which is no more than another way of generalizing the partial knowledge represented by modern science into total knowledge, but with esoteric pretensions.54 This other science which is traditional in the most profound sense of implying a transmission in conformity with the destiny of the person who is able to possess such a knowledge55 cannot but manifest itself when scientia sacra becomes a reality once again, because it is none other than the application of this supreme form of knowledge to the cosmic realm.

It is not possible to say whether such a science which is intermediary between pure metaphysics and modern science can be created and expounded to integrate modern science in time to prevent the applications of this science in the form of modern technology from bringing further devastation upon nature and destruction upon man himself. What is certain, however, is that however omnipotent Promethean man may feel himself to be, it is nature that shall have the final say.56 It is her rhythms and norms which shall finally predominate. Since truth always triumphs according to the old Latin adage vincit omnia Veritas, and nature is closer to the truth than the artificial world created by Promethean man, she cannot but be the final victor.

The spiritual man, whose mind is sanctified by the Intellect and whose outward eyes have gained a new light issuing from the eye of the heart, does not even see himself in such a dichotomy. He is always on nature's side for he sees in her the grand theophany which externalizes all that he is inwardly. He sees in the forms of nature the signatures of the celestial archetypes and in her movements and rhythms the exposition of a metaphysics of the highest order. To such a person nature is at once an aid to spiritual union, for man needs the world in order to transcend it, and a support for the presence of that very reality which lies at once beyond and within her forms created by the hands of the Supreme Artisan. To contemplate the cosmos as theophany is to realize that all manifestation from the One is return to the One, that all separation is union, that all otherness is sameness, that all plenitude is the Void. It is to see God everywhere.

  • 1.

    See Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy, Paradiso, trans. with a commentary by C. S. Singleton, Princeton, 1975, p. 377. Singleton explains (pp. 576–77) some of the symbolism of this remarkable passage including the reference of squaderna to the number four and the verb s'interna to the triune God.

  • 2.

    In contrast to those who have spoken of Eastern wisdom and Western science and have tried to pay tribute to the East by exalting its wisdom and belittling its “science” which is then considered to be the crowning achievement of the West, we believe that besides Eastern wisdom, which of course possesses an exalted nature and is of inestimable value, the sciences of the Oriental civilizations are also of much significance in making available alternative sciences and philosophies of nature to those prevalent in the West. It is of much interest to note that in contrast to this juxtaposing of Eastern wisdom and Western science of the early part of this century, many seekers of authentic knowledge today are practically as much interested in Eastern sciences as in Eastern wisdom. We do not of course want to depreciate in any way Eastern wisdom without whose knowledge the traditional sciences would become meaningless. But we wish to defend the significance of the traditional sciences against those who would claim that the Oriental civilizations may have contributed something to philosophy or religion but little of consequence to the study of nature. Despite the presence of practitioners of acupuncture and Hatha Yoga in practically every European and American city and the appearance of a whole library of popular works on the Oriental sciences, one still encounters such a point of view rather extensively.

  • 3.

    On the traditional meaning and significance of cosmology see T. Burckhardt, “Nature de la perspective cosmologique,” Études Traditionnelles 49 (1948): 216–19; also his “Cosmology and Modern Science,” in J. Needleman (ed.), The Sword of Gnosis, esp. pp. 122–32. As far as Islamic cosmology is concerned see Nasr, An Introduction to Islamic Cosmological Doctrines.

  • 4.

    The modern discipline of the history of science, with a few notable exceptions, is able to trace the historical link between the traditional sciences and the modern ones but is not capable of unraveling their symbolic and metaphysical significance precisely because of its own philosophical limitations and its totally secularized conception of knowledge. On the difference between traditional and modern science see R. Guénon, “Sacred and Profane Science,” in his Crisis of the Modern World, pp. 37–50; and Nasr, “Traditional Science,” in R. Fernando (ed.), vol. dedicated to A. K. Coomaraswamy (in press).

  • 5.

    On the theme of seeing the Divine Presence in all things see Schuon, “Seeing God Everywhere,” in his Gnosis, Divine Wisdom, pp. 106–21.

  • 6.

    Theophany, literally, “to show God,” does not mean the incarnation of God in things but the reflection of the Divinity in the mirror of created forms.

  • 7.
  • 8.

    We have developed this idea extensively in our various works on the Islamic sciences esp. An Introduction to Islamic Cosmological Doctrines, prologue; Science and Civilization in Islam, p. 24; and Ideals and Realities of Islam, pp. 54ff.

  • 9.
    According to a famous Persian Sufi poem,

    Upon the face of every green leaf is inscribed

    For the people of perspicacity, the wisdom of the Creator.

  • 10.

    On the spiritual significance of the identification of the American Indian with the spirit of a particular animal see J. Brown, The Sacred Pipe, Brown, Okla., 1967, esp. pp. 44ff., “Crying for a Vision”; C. Martin, Keepers of the Game, Los Angeles, 1980; A. I. Hallowell, “Bear Ceremonialism in the Northern Hemisphere,” American Anthropologist 28/1 (1926): 1–175; and Artscanada nos. 184–87 (Dec. 1973–Jan. 1974), which contains much documentation of interest concerning the relation between American Indians and the animal world.

  • 11.

    This does not mean that the significance of miracles is to be denied or belittled in any way. Even Islam, which emphasizes the order in the universe as the most evident proof of the power and wisdom of the One, asserts that there cannot be prophecy without miracles (i‘jāz), which in fact occupies an important position in Islamic theological discussions.

  • 12.

    For the meaning of the Shari‘ah and its significance for Muslims see Nasr, Ideals and Realities of Islam, chap. 4.

  • 13.

    Works on Islamic natural history take this practically for granted; in Arabic various species are often referred to as ummah which means a religious community bound by a particular Divine Law such as the ummah of Islam or Judaism. On the spiritual meaning of the animal kingdom having its own laws and religious significance see Ikhwan al-Ṣafā', Der Streit zwischen Mensch und Tier, trans. F. Dieterici, 1969, 1969; and into English by J. Platts as Dispute between Man and the Animals, London, 1869.

  • 14.

    See al-Fārābī, Idées des habitants de la cite vertueuse, trans. R. P. Janssen, Cairo, 1949. An English translation with commentary and annotations was completed by R. Walzer before his death and is to be published soon by the Oxford University Press.

  • 15.

    The Ash‘arites reject the idea of the “nature” of things and laws relating to these “natures.” But they do so in the name of an all-embracing voluntarism which transforms these “laws” into the direct expressions of the Will of God. Although this kind of totalitarian voluntarism is opposed to the sapiential perspective which is based on the integral nature of the Godhead including both His Wisdom and Power and not just His Power or Will, as far as the present argument is concerned, even the Ash‘arite position would be included by the thesis here presented. They, too, like other schools of Islamic thought, see all laws governing both the human and the nonhuman world as expressions of the Divine Will even if they do not distinguish between what God wills and what reflects His Nature which cannot not be.

  • 16.

    On the metaphysical relation between a particular being and the milieu in which it exists see Guénon, Les États multiples de l'être.

  • 17.

    On the chain of being see the still valuable work of A. Lovejoy, The Great Chain of Being, Cambridge, Mass., 1961.

  • 18.

    For Islamic sources on the chain of being (marātib al-mawjūdāt) see Nasr, Introduction to Islamic Cosmological Doctrines, pp. 202ff.

  • 19.

    On the “Five Divine Presences” see F. Schuon, Dimensions of Islam, pp. 142–58.

  • 20.

    The last three worlds have their own subdivisions, the malakūt including also the lower angels, and being identified with the soul which has the possibility of journeying to and through the other realms or presences.

  • 21.
    There is as yet no exhaustive work which would embrace all the different kinds of cosmology developed in Islamic thought. We have dealt with some of the most important ones in our Introduction to Islamic Cosmological Doctrines.

    It should be remembered that in Islam as in other traditions the whole of cosmology has also been expounded in terms of music since traditional music has a cosmic dimension and corresponds to the structure, rhythms, and modalities of the cosmos. That is why traditional sciences of music emphasize so much the cosmic and metacosmic correspondences of musical modes, melodies, and rhythms.

    On the correspondence between music and the cosmos in Islam see R. D'Erlanger, La Musiaue arabe, 5 vols., Paris, 1930–1939; N. Caron and D. Safvat, Les Traditions musicales, vol. 2, Iran, Paris, 1966; Ibn ‘Alī al-Kātib, La Perfection des connaissances musicales, trans. A. Shiloah, Paris, 1972; A. Shiloah, “L'Epître sur la musique des Ikhwan al-Safā,”; Revue des Études Islamiques, 1965, pp. 125–62, and 1967, pp. 159–93; and J. During, “Elements spirituels dans la musique traditionnelle iranienne contemporaine,” Sophia Perennis 1/2 (1975): 129–54 (which deals with the spiritual and initiatic rather than cosmological aspect of traditional music).

    See also the classical work of A. Daniélou, Introduction to the Study of Musical Scales, London, 1943, which deals with the metaphysical and cosmological foundations of Indian music. This correspondence between cosmology and music is to be found wherever traditional music has survived along with the intellectual and spiritual tradition which has given birth to it.

  • 22.

    On various cosmologies in the ancient world see C. Blacker and M. Loewe (eds.), Ancient Cosmologies, London, 1975. The essays in this volume having been written by different authors, although all informative, do not all possess the same point of view as far as their evaluation of the meaning of the traditional cosmological schemes is concerned.

  • 23.

    On the gnostic journey through the cosmos in the Islamic tradition see Nasr, Introduction to Islamic Cosmological Doctrines, chap. 15.

  • 24.

    Many traditional myths deal with the precarious and dangerous act of escaping from the prison of cosmic existence considered in its aspect of limitation. See, for example, Coomaraswamy, “Symplygades,” in Lipsey (ed.), Coomaraswamy, vol. 1, pp. 521–44.

  • 25.

    Some traditions envisage this labyrinth as so many dangerous mountains and valleys, dark forests and the like. The journey of Dante up the mountain of purgatory is a symbol of the journey through the cosmos seen as a mountain, a symbolism also found in ‘Aṭṭār's Conference of the Birds (Mantiq al-ṭayr) and in many other traditions. The symbolism of the cosmic mountain (the Mount Meru of Hinduism, Alborz of the Zoroastrians, the Qāf of Islam, etc.) is one of the most universal symbols to be found in various traditions. On the symbolism of mountain climbing as related to journeying through the cosmos see M. Pallis, “The Way and the Mountain,” in his The Way and the Mountain, pp. 13–35.

  • 26.

    The maze of such cathedrals as Chartres relate to this same principle and is based on exact knowledge of the traditional cosmological sciences. See K., C., and V. Critchlow, Chartre Maze, A Model of the Universe, London, 1976.

  • 27.

    The Prophet of Islam has said, “Die before you die.” It is the person who has followed this injunction who is able to contemplate cosmic forms as reflections of Divine Qualities rather than opaque veils which hide the splendor of their Source.

  • 28.

    This is essentially the perspective of Zen which does not mean that one can experience the Divine in things by some form of naturalism which for many Western adepts of Zen is almost a carry over from a kind of sentimental nature mysticism into the world of Zen. Such people, in a sense, wish to experience Heaven without either faith in God or virtue which would qualify a being for the paradisal state, for what is the contemplation of natural forms in divinis except an experience of the paradisal state? In any case, there is no such thing as natural mysticism from the traditional point of view; in practice man cannot experience God as the immanent before experiencing Him as the transcendent, however these concepts are translated in different traditional languages. One could also say that man can realize the identity of nirvāna with samsāra provided he has already gone beyond samsāra and reached nirvāna.

  • 29.
    That is why tajallī is translated as theophany. In his incomparable Gulshan-i rāz, Shabistarī says,

    Non-being is a mirror, the world the image [of the Universal Man], and man

    Is the eye of the image, in which the person is hidden.

    See Nasr, Science and Civilization in Islam, p. 345.

  • 30.

    We are not using matter here in its Aristotelian but in its everyday sense as the “stuff” or “substance” of which things are made.

  • 31.

    During the last few years much interest has been shown in the West in the rediscovery of the meaning of sacred geometry. See, for example, K. Critchlow, Time Stands Still; idem, Islamic Patterns; and the various publications of the Lindesfarne Association including the Lindesfarne Letters, esp. no. 10 (1980), dealing with geometry and architecture.

  • 32.

    See Proclus Lycius, The Philosophical and Mathematical Commentaries of Proclus, on the First Book of Euclid's Elements, trans. with commentary by Th. Taylor, London, 1792. This fundamental work elucidated by Taylor's important commentaries, contains the basis for the understanding of the relation of geometry to first principles. Of course although geometry is an ancillary to metaphysics, it is not only an ancillary. Rather, it is one of the most important of the traditional sciences in its own right and as these sciences are related to art.

  • 33.

    It is really only since the early decades of the nineteenth century that technology in the West has become wed closely to modern science and has constituted its direct application. Before this relatively recent past, science and technology followed two very different courses with few significant reactions between them.

  • 34.

    For traditional critiques of modern science see Guénon, “Sacred and Profane Science”; Schuon, Language of the Self, chap. 10; idem, In the Tracks of Buddhism, chap. 5; Lord Northbourne, Religion in the Modern World, London, 1963, esp. chap. 5; and F. Brunner, Science et réalité, Paris, 1954.

  • 35.

    You’ve managed to get to a note that doesn’t exist.

  • 36.

    “Modern man was not—and is not—“intelligent” enough to offer intellectual resistance to such specious suggestions as are liable to follow from contact with facts which, though natural, normally lie beyond the range of common experience; in order to combine, in one and the same consciousness, both the religious symbolism of the sky and the astronomical fact of the Milky Way, an intelligence is required that is more than just rational, and this brings us back to the crucial problem of intellection and, as a further consequence, to the problem of gnosis and esoterism.… Howbeit, the tragic dilemma of the modern mind results from the fact that the majority of men are not capable of grasping a priori the compatibility of the symbolic expressions of tradition with the material observations of science; these observations incite modern man to want to understand the ‘why and where’ of all things, but he wishes this ‘wherefore’ to remain as external and easy as scientific phenomena themselves, or in other words, he wants all the answers to be on the level of his own experiences: and as these are purely material ones, his consciousness closes itself in advance against all that might transcend them.” Schuon, Language of the Self, pp. 226–27.

  • 37.

    You’ve managed to get to a note that doesn’t exist.

  • 38.

    The attraction toward Oriental teachings about nature alluded to above is related to this same phenomenon. On the interest of contemporary physics in the traditional esoteric and mystical views of the universe see M. Talbot, Mysticism and the New Physics, New York, 1981.

  • 39.
    “L'Ame du Monde est donc bien typiftée par la Vièrge Marie du Christianisme.” J. Brun, “Qu'est devenu L'Ame due Monde?” Cahiers de l'Université Saint Jean de Jérusalem, no. 6, Le Combat pour l'Ame du Monde, Paris, 1980, pp. 164–65. This essay traces the steps by which the world as seen by modern man lost its soul.

    On the relation of the Virgin Mary to the World Soul see the article of G. Durand, “La Vièrge Marie et l'Ame du Monde,” in the same volume, pp. 135–67.

  • 40.

    For example, among all the later Islamic philosophers who followed the Avicennan and Suhrawardian cosmologies such as Qāḍī Sa‘īd Qummī, whose Glosses upon theTheology of Aristotle”, containing an elaborate discussion of this subject, has been analyzed by C. Jambet in his “L'Ame du Monde et l'amour sophianique,” in Cahiers de l'Université Saint Jean de Jérusalem, no. 6, Le Combat pour l'Ame du Monde, pp. 52ff.

  • 41.

    On the meaning of these cities which appear in folk tales, poetry such as that of Niẓāmī as well as texts of philosophy and metaphysics see Corbin, En Islam iranien, vol. 2, p. 59.

  • 42.

    It is the allure of empiricism which draws so many people to various kinds of spiritualism, magnetism, occultism, etc., where the supernatural is “proven” through phenomenal evidence. Although certain experiments in parapsychology have certainly demonstrated that there is more to reality than meets the eye and that the so-called scientific world view of a limited material-energy complex as the ultimate ground of all that constitutes reality cannot be sustained, no phenomenal evidence can prove the reality of the Spirit which lies beyond all phenomena and belongs to the realm of the noumena.

  • 43.

    See his Universe of Experience, New York, 1974.

  • 44.
    His numerous articles and essays in the Eranos-Jahrbuch over the years comprise a major statement of a nonreductionist “philosophy of nature” by a contemporary biologist. On Portmann see also M. Grene, Approaches to a Philosophical Biology, New York, 1965.

    For a philosophy of science opposed to reductionism see also the works of M. Polanyi, The Tacit Dimension, New York, 1966; Science, Faith and Society, London, 1946; and Knowing and Being, London, 1969. His works have attracted during the past few years the attention of many students of science opposed to the reductionism inherent in the current scientific world view.

  • 45.
    During the past few years much activity has taken place in Germany to criticize the segmented approach of modern science in the name of a more wholistic way of studying nature. There is even a review devoted to this subject with numerous articles by both scientists and philosophers who deal with this theme and its ramifications. See the Zeitschrift für Ganzheitsforschung (1957–).

    On the criticism of modern science from this perspective see also W. Heitler, Naturphilosophische Streifzüge, Braunschweig, 1970; and his Der Mensch und die naturwissenschaftliche Erkenntnis, Braunschweig, 1970.

  • 46.

    “Fondée non pas sur la considération de Dieu, mais sur une technique particulière, la science moderne cache Dieu et l'enveloppe au bien de s'ouvrir à la connaissance universelle et transcendante…; elle n'est proprement ni divine ni révélatrice de Dieu et ne peut definir la réalité véritable du monde.” F. Brunner, Science et réalité, p, 205. This work contains one of the most thorough intellectual criticisms of modern science by a contemporary European philosopher.

  • 47.

    “Symbolic thought is gnostic, while scientific thought is agnostic; it believes that ‘two and two make four’ or it believes only what it sees, which amounts to the same thing.” G. Durand, On the Disfiguration of the Image of Man in the West, Ipswich, U.K., 1977, p. 15.

  • 48.
    St. Bonaventure could write concerning the beauties of nature as the reflection of God's beauty and wisdom:

    Whoever, therefore, is not enlightened

    by such splendor of created things

    is blind;

    whoever is not awakened by such outcries

    is deaf;

    whoever does not praise God because of all these effects

    is dumb;

    whoever does not discover the First Principle

    from such clear signs

    is a fool.

    From E. Cousins (trans.), Bonaventure: The Soul's Journey unto God, p. 67. But it seems that many of those who followed him after the Middle Ages, even among theologians dominated to a great extent by nominalism, would have been classified by him according to the above definitions as blind, deaf, dumb, or fools.

  • 49.

    “Il nous semble que la pensée occidentale, traditionnelle ou moderne, religieuse ou atftée, propose de la Nature une notion ‘mutilée’ ou limitée, corrélative d'une attitude passionnelle ou polémique.” G. Vallin, “Nature intégrate et Nature mutitée,” Revue philosophique, no. 1 (Jan.–Mars 1974): 77.

  • 50.
    “La pensée occidentale nous offre, notamment dans le Néoplatonisme, dans l'Hermétisme ou l'alchimie, ou chez un Scot Erigène, une approache ou un équivalent de ces que nous proposons d'appeler la ‘Nature intégral’; mais c'est dans le cadre de la pensée orientale, et notamment de la métaphysique hindouiste du Védanta que cette ‘structure’ à la fois cosmologique et théologique nous paraît présenter toute son ampleur et sa richesse.” Ibid., p. 84.

    We have also dealt with this question in our Man and Nature.

  • 51.

    “C'est pourquoi il faut qu'il existe une autre science que la science moderne. Cet autre type de connaissance du monde n'exclut pas la science sous sa forme actuelle, si l'on envisage la perfection pour qui sous-tend et justifie dans une certaine mesure la pensée technique elle-même: la science véritable laisse subsister la science moderne comme une manifestation possible de l'esprit en nous.” Brunner, op. cit., p. 208–9.

  • 52.

    Through such a science “l'ordre sensible, après celui de l'ême, exprime finalement l'ordre de l'intelligence auquel appartiennent les lois suprêmes de la production du monde, de la vie spirituelle et du retour des êtres à Dieu.” Brunner, op. cit., p. 215.

  • 53.

    It is important to note that the founders of the discipline of the history of science, who were all either outstanding historians of thought or philosophers of science, were, with the exception of the much neglected P. Duhem, positivists. As a result, an invisible positivist air still dominates the minds of the scholars of this discipline despite several important exceptions such as A. Koyré, G. Di Santillana and, among the younger generation, N. Sivan and A. Debus. What is of special interest is that this positivism becomes rather aggressive when the question of the Oriental sciences and their metaphysical significance comes to the fore. That is why so few studies of the Oriental sciences which would reveal their significance as being anything more than quaint errors on the path of human progress have come out of those dominated by the tacit positivism of this discipline, no matter how learned they might be. S. Jaki in his The Road of Science and the Ways to God, Chicago, 1978, has referred to this positivism in connection with its neglect of the role of Christian elements such as a Creator whose will rules over an orderly universe. Although we do not agree with his appreciation of Western science as a positive result of the particular characteristics of Christianity, we certainly share his concern for the limitations imposed upon the discipline of the history of science by the positivism of its founders.

  • 54.

    The recent work, R. Ruyer, La Gnose de Princeton: des savants à la recherche d'une religion, Paris, 1974, supposedly by the group of scientists at Princeton interested in gnosis but most likely the thoughts of one person using a fictitious group, is an example of this kind of phenomenon. The thirst for sacred knowledge in the contemporary world is such that this work became popular in France where, during recent years, many pseudognostic and pseudoesoteric works by scientists have seen the light of day.

  • 55.

    Traditions emphasize that this knowledge, although attainable, is not attainable by everyone because not only does it need preparation but can be taught only to the person who possesses the capability and nature to “inherit” such a knowledge. That is why some of the Muslim authorities like Sayyid Ḥaydar Āmulī refer to it as inherited knowledge (al-‘ilm al-mawrūthī) which they contrast with acquired knowledge (al-‘ilm al-iktisābī). See Corbin, “Science traditionnelle et renaissance spirituelle,” Cahiers de l'Université Saint Jean de Jérusalem 1 (1974): 39ff.

  • 56.

    “Nature… which is at the same time their sanctuary [of the American Indians], will end by conquering this artificial and sacreligious world, for it is the Garment, the Breath, the very Hand of the Great Spirit.” Schuon, Language of the Self, p. 224.

From the book: