The three stages of spiritual path are Katharsis, Theoria, and Theosis: Katharsis is Purification through Abstention. Theoria is Illumination through Contemplation. Theosis is Deification through Concentration. Theosis is Obliteration in Affirmation.
This encompasses the method, the means, and the end of all spiritual ascent: First, we become aware of our existence; then, we see, with the Eye of the Heart,the non-existence of our awareness of our existence; and at last, we are no more and we see no more, for in our total obliteration it is affirmed that though “Nothing is like Him, He is the Hearing and the Seeing,” [Verse (42:11, Quran)] and He is the Being of all beings: At last, we have landed on the Cloud of Unknowing.
Spiritual ascent is a journey from man to Atman, from humanity to Divinity, from duality to singularity.
Nothing is ever achieved, for everything is already given. The wind of grace is always blowing; to receive it we only need to become receptive, and to become receptive is to be open, wide open, and to be open to Him is to be closed to ourselves, to be mute and dead to ourselves, i.e. to play dead before Him so we perceive His approach and receive His mercy and grace; it is to turn the attentiveness of the soul away from the Divine self-transmutation toward the Divine self-disclosure, from perception in reception to reception in perception.
Truth is waiting for us on the other side of phenomena. It is the attraction of truth that draws us toward Himself but to us it is experienced as an attraction toward phenomena, while it is really an attraction to that which lies behind and beyond them. The task is to cross over: Your soul is your boat and your remembrance of Him is your rowing toward Him.
The world, this ensemble of phenomena, is nothing but a transparent veil over the face of Truth. It is transparent, for we are at all times staring at the face of Truth but failing to recognize It. Instead we conjure up the world in place of the Face, darkness in place of light, obscurity in place of clarity, illusion in place of vision. Truth is always known by all. It is only a lapse in memory that make us oblivious to Its existence and nearness to us.
Since truth is transcendental, and hence atemporal, its perception too cannot be an experience in the usual sense of the word, i.e. experience as a temporal and dual stream, dual in the sense that all experience is based on a knower-known, or subject-object duality. Knowledge is proportional to its object, for both emerge and become manifest as a result of an apparent polarity within the knower. Therefore: The experience of the eternal is itself eternal.
Intelligence operates simultaneously at two distinct levels: In one level it is the pure onlooker, the Witness; in another, the lower level, it is the actor and constitutor. These two distinct levels of activity of God or the higher Intellect, the one transcendent and the other immanent, is reflected in the human plane as the two principal modes of wakefulness, i.e. a wakefulness in the world and a wakefulness to the world: This is the distinction between the active and the contemplative life. But even the active life, action here implying outward mobility, is founded on the contemplative activity of the spirit. After all, everything is contemplation, for the One is contemplation par excellence: It is contemplation that creates, i.e. transcendentally constitutes, the field of action.
Spiritual practices and rituals are not meant to invoke a deity or to bring the Divinity closer to the aspirant but to make the aspirant aware of the primordial nearness of the Divinity: The heart of the devotee is the throne of God.
The separation between man and God is a one-way separation, for it appears only to man and as long as he is man. From God’s side all is God and God is all. Though we are far away from God, He is eternally with us, for He is the eternity within us. This separation is of the nature of time. As time separates the tree from its root, the fruit from its seed, it has separated man from the Atman. To see this we must see that eternity is not something in time, but time is something in eternity. Because of ignorance, i.e. intellectual/spiritual impurities, or more precisely because of poor sight, we cannot perceive this truth. Spiritual practices are meant to remove these impurities as a result of which the ever-shining Face of Truth is immediately recognized.
Truth shines in the heart: Spiritual practices only make the heart receptive to this light. This is only a matter of spiritual/intellectual reorientation of the soul. In other words, spiritual practices in fact reorient the Intellect toward its origin, away from duality and toward singularity: The only way to Theosis is Katharsis.
In another post, “World As Divine Symbol“, we devoted ourselves to the symbolic nature of the phenomenal world, that this world is essentially a symbol pointing us to something beyond itself, to something that stands behind and supports appearances, something itself not an appearance, and hence itself not subject to impermanence.
If the world is a symbol, then all its phenomena in their particularity must have symbolic significance. These phenomena communicate to us by way of signs and symbols our essential relationship with that immutable principle of all things. The cosmic phenomena constituting the macrocosm communicate to us the possibilities inherent in microcosm, namely man, possibilities to be realized through work and contemplation. In this post we focus on the symbolism of our solar system and how it manifests the various modalities by which man is related to truth.
Sun is the source and the principle, the center of creation. It is that source from which all things arise and around which all things revolve. We know that all the planets that are now revolving the sun are constituted by the elements created at the heart of sun. Not only all planets came out of the sun, but the earth as the one special planet hosting life, bearing the sons of the Sun, constantly depends on sun for the subsistence of life on it.
Sun is made of light and the most basic elements, hydrogen and helium. Light is the source of all life. The cosmos as a whole is an ocean of energy, and light is the basic constituent of all energy. Something that may sound strange to commonsense but is true from a scientific standpoint is that light by which all things become visible is itself something invisible. Photons cannot be seen when they’re in flight, and the process of capturing them is a destructive interference which annihilates the photon and converts its energy into material manifestation, namely the production of mater and anti-matter, usually an electron and a positron in a process known as pair-production. The sun that we see in the sky, besides being mostly the reflection of light from hydrogen and helium in the sun, is the result of the annihilation of photons coming from the sun upon their impact with our retina which converts their energy into electric pulses traveling to our brain: We never see light itself; we see only the object, the material manifestation, that is made visible by light’s reflection. Thus, that which makes everything visible is itself invisible.
Sun is the source of light; it is light itself. All other objects in the solar system derive their brightness from the light of the sun; they reflect the light of the principle, and hence the principle itself and its constant presence.
All the objects of the solar system, planets and comets, which have come from the heart of the sun keep revolving around their source; this is similar to the circumambulation ritual central to all religions in which the devotees rotate around a symbol representing the principle.
Planet earth represents the plane of existence, of material manifestation of the principle and the principle itself as the consciousness on earth whose principal bearer is man: Man being the most conscious being reflects more the light of the principle compared to other less conscious beings, animals and plants. Thus, human being has a special place since animals and plants, and even the whole of solar system, are phenomena reflected in man’s consciousness: Planets to the sun are like what creation is to man’s consciousness. Therefore, from a symbolic point of view the totality of solar system is also reflected within man with his/her consciousness playing the role of the light by which all phenomena are known.
We said the the sun is the source of all things, like the principle that is behind all manifestations. This makes perfect sense since the material elements of earth which are made of heavier atoms, such as iron, are produced at the center of the sun; only the intense heat and pressure available at the center of the sun can fuse together lighter elements such as hydrogen and helium into heavier elements such as iron. This process is known as nuclear fusion, a process central to the existence of stars; this fusion converts parts of matter into photons which is the main source of sunlight. Thus, the whole of earth and everything on it, including both organic and inorganic matter, not only came from the source but depend on it, as life depends on light, in every moment of their existence.
From the point of view of earth the sun seems to rise and set; but in reality the sun, the principle, neither rises nor sets; it is always there shining its light upon all its children, the planets and comets, etc. All these manifestations are sustained in their course by the gravitational force that the sun exerts on them, this attractive force representing the love of the principle for its manifestations: While the principle is reflected in the manifestation, the manifestation is prefigured in the principle. In the absence of this attractive force everything would fly away into the cold oblivion of empty space.
Day and night represent the states of the human soul in its relation to the principle, day representing the direct presence of the principle, and night representing the absence, or indirect presence, of the principle:
What is night: Night is when the earth, representing the purely material aspect, is between us and the sun; we call night the period of time during which the material earth comes in between us and the source of light, when from the point of view of the sun we are hidden behind the earth, and hence deprived of sunlight due to being situated in the shadow of the purely material globe. Night represents our being forgetfulness of the principle due to our being wholly preoccupied with its material manifestation. Night is when the light of principle is obstructed by the overshadowing presence of manifestation; it is when the manifestation becomes primary and the principle becomes secondary.
What is day: Day is when we put behind ourselves the earth, the purely material aspect; it is when the earth is no more between us and the source but rather we are between the source and its manifestation; it is when the principle becomes primary and its manifestation becomes only secondary. From the point of view of the sun, day is when we are directly facing the sun while the earth is behind us playing only the role of a support.
It is important to note that in both day and night our feet is always touching the earth: We do not become separated from the earth which signifies our essential dependence on material manifestation insofar as we are living in the manifested order. As a result, the manifestation by itself does not keep us from facing and knowing the principle. Manifestation conceals the principle only when we give priority to it, only at night during which we put the material aspect, the earth, between ourselves and the shining sun.
Thus, the essential difference between day and night is not a difference between accepting or rejecting the material aspect, an aspect on which our existence depends. The essential difference is rather between our fundamental orientation relative to the source while still being tied to the manifestation, namely grounded on earth; it has to do with our focus, whether we’re focused on the principle or the manifestation, and whether we are wholly given to the manifestation or simply use it as a vehicle for reminding and transporting us toward the principle.
In the case of night, the material earth coming between us and the sun represents our forgetfulness of the principle under the shadow of the manifestation, that is when we give priority to the material effect rather than to the immaterial cause. Day, on the other hand, signifies the state in which while depending on the material effect we are conscious of the immaterial source; we are facing toward it, which means the immaterial source, the principle, has become our priority and the material earth reduced to only a means and a vehicle for realizing the priority and the superiority of the principle.
Night represents the darkness of the soul, its forgetfulness of its own nature as something essentially made of light. Day represents the soul’s consciousness of its source; the earth’s day represents the bright hours of the soul, its being immersed in the light of the principle and hence directly conscious of it.
Despite the fact that night is a state of facing away from the source, and more precisely when the material aspect obstructs the immaterial source, even at nights there comes the moon that reflects the light of the obstructed sun, and hence assisting us in the remembrance of the truth. Thus, the moon which reflects the sunlight and hence brings light, however pale, to our nights represents the prophet and the sage who by their mere purified presence reflect the light of truth, precisely in times of spiritual darkness, and help us remember our essential nature and true source. The full moon represents the prophet at the apex; its maximum brightening power signifies the intensity of a principal divine revelation which descends vertically and propagates horizontally in time and space, hence reverberating throughout history and attracting millions to itself. The other states of the moon, the half, quarter, etc. can be viewed as representing the presence of saints and sages whose divine inspirations, often emanating from their involved participation in an initiatic chain going back to the prophet and hence to a principal revelation, keep the light of principle available in the nights of the soul.
There always comes nights where the moon is fully dark, and hence we are deprived of the sunlight altogether; these nights represent the dark night of the soul. But this darkness is transitory and always passes and the moon, if not the sun, always reappears to lessen the weight of darkness. Though we cannot see the light of our sun when the moon is dark, we can still see shining stars which are far away; these dim lights represent our access to the truths of revelation-based traditions through the “letter.” The Spirit in the letter, as Logos and as the Word, shines through scriptures and the writings of the saints and sages that can console the dark nights of the soul.
Thus, we see that light is never fully absence; there’s no absolute darkness even in the depths of space. There is no point in deep space where you can stand and not see a single star. In other words, the empty space, and the whole of cosmos, is filled with light, whether visible light, meaning light of a certain range of frequencies detectable by human eye, or invisible light which consists in frequencies that our eye cannot detect and translate into colors. Totality, even in its darkest state, is filled with the ever-present light of the Principle.
The seasons, which are caused as a result of our distance and mainly the angle of earth’s axis relative to the sun, represent what religious traditions recognize as the cycles of life which govern both history as a whole and the stages of a human life in particular: It is birth, growth, fall or decay, and death, death only marking a new beginning and far from being the end of things. We know that each cycle, having its necessary function in relation to the whole, has a beauty of its own and neither of the cycles should be viewed as unnecessary or devoid of intrinsic value, for they all function toward their principal aim, namely spiritual development and realization, which is nothing other than the reintegration of the manifestation in the principle.
These cyclic transformations caused by the relative position of the earth to the sun, the manifestation to the principle, apply both to the life of a single human being, manifested in the four stages of childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and old age, and they also apply to the life of historical epochs, empires, traditions, etc. Everything undergoes this cyclic change, but in spite of this apparent change the sun which is the source of all things shines while being itself unaffected by these changes, as the principle is always unaffected by its manifestations.
From a wider perspective we can see the solar system itself as a phenomenon subject to the cycles, constituting a smaller, sub-phenomenal symbol within the larger symbolic phenomenon of the Milky Way Galaxy which is the grand revolution of stars and stones around a super massive black-hole at the center of the galaxy. A black-hole does not signify lack of light; on the contrary it is the locus of infinite amount of light. The black appearance of a black-hole is caused due to the tremendous force of gravity that keeps the light from escaping the center.
Black-hole which is the fate of almost any average-sized star is the last stage of a whole 4-fold cycle in which the source swallows all its material effects, and hence a black-hole can be viewed as the symbol representing the reintegration of the manifestation in the principle which itself marks the beginning of a new cosmic manifestation. When a sun doesn’t collapse into black-hole at the end of its life it explodes creating the most beautiful cosmic event called the supernova. From a supernova, which is the event of the death of a single star, a thousand suns are born.
Thus, we see that the end of an existing cycle marks the beginning of a new cycle for countless other manifestations which themselves produce sub-manifestations. The cosmic manifestation and its relation to the Principle reminds me of Russian Dolls: Creation is the event of one and the same Principle manifesting itself in multitude of forms, one inside the other, and as its own infinite possibilities: The principal form or the archetype constantly shows itself from the infinitely small to the infinitely large and everything in between, the macrocosm being reflected in the microcosm and vice versa.
Each natural phenomenon can be viewed as a symbol communicating to us the metaphysical truths in general and the spiritual possibilities inherent in man in particular, which states that the macrocosm is reflected in the microcosm, a message of which we are reminded in the verse “God created man in His own image.”
“We did not come to return; we have come to rise above.”
Man is a deep well connecting the oblivion of Godhead to the personified God. He is not something suspended in the abyss; he is the abyss itself. He seeks God, not knowing he is the very ground upon which God stands. The Absolute is void, and man fills this void by relative utterances of hopes and desires. Man seeks to be enlightened, not knowing that he is the light of the world.
Know thyself?! What is to be known, and who is to know it?
Ask yourself: Who is in there? Who is looking out into this world of empty appearances? And who is looking in? No “I” is to be found. Why? Because the “I” is the one always looking. How can anything be found where the only thing that is is seeking?
God became man so to find Himself as God, and yet in this becoming He lost himself in the midst of himself. He was a whole that has become a part. Dear, don’t give too much thought to this, for to think is to make apart. You have become too partitioned; your way back is to accept you are but a paradox.
God is never known if He doesn’t fall into pieces that can reflect His face. God remained unknown even to himself unless He becomes the other, the not-God, man. He becomes whole precisely through becoming partitioned. Man isn’t the fallen Adam; man is the fallen God.
Sit back, relax; this world has never come into being, neither did your beloved personhood. Look again deep into your own eyes and see the bottomless well that you are. Don’t be the ocean wave seeking its own source; the wave and the ocean are never apart; it is all water. Zoom in and you see only the wave, the separation; zoom out and you see only the ocean. This god of yours and its creation are akin to the ocean and its waves. How can one be without the other? They are one and the same.
You are crucified by your own beliefs. You are bound by your own bonds. Use this body only to surf this life. The surfer who thinks he is surfing the wave little knows that waves too are surfing him. Surfers don’t last; waves never cease to be. You are that wave and not the surfing body; you are the ocean itself.
These words too are nothing but waves; don’t dwell in them, for they too shall be forgotten. Words need meaning but meaning doesn’t need words. You too need no words, for you are that which is meant throughout all empty appearances. You are the inexpressible Reality.
Seeing is not what it seems to be. The blind man comes into contact with objects one at a time; when he gains sight he sees them all at once. Then he knows that what he touched was more than the touched. He can also see his touching. Before, he could only know himself part by part but now he sees himself all at once. I tell you this, that the everyday seeing of ours is nothing but a touch compared to the Seeing by which God is seen. This seeing is a veil to be torn apart by That Seeing. In fact, we are not seeing until we see God. And until we see God we can only think that we know, but once we see Him we know that we know: His face is His proof.
I am not of this world. If I were how could I know the world as world? How could I know worldliness if I were not that upon which worldliness is superimposed?
Beliefs bind us, and that keeps us sane. Human finitude can’t handle the divine infinitude. Man must die and rise as Atman in order to perceive the unbearable face of Brahman.
Everything that is is made by us to be what it is. We forget this ever since reality was divorced from consciousness. We are ourselves made by us. The fact that we can view ourselves as a personality suggests the existence of an element in us that transcends that personality, an element that can view us as a meaningful, synthetic whole called personality. As that transcendent element our relation to personality is always that of acceptedness. Personality is always superimposed on the consciousness-of-now by means of memories, emotions, and anticipations. We experience ourselves already coated with personality. Thus, we, the true, transcendental experiencers, could not be the same as the personality that we perceive.
We are always more than what we seem to be as the world is always less than what it seems to be. Chasing after the objects of desire we only get more desire and less satisfaction. Why? Because what we think the world has for us is always what we think. We attribute to the world that which is conceived within ourselves. It is not the world-object that gives us pleasure but rather the idea that “the object makes us whole.” So long as we are entangled with this idea we are never at peace, for the idea is always there whether we have all the world or not. And the moment we detach ourselves from that idea, then we are already whole without need of any objects whatsoever.
My dear, there is nothing wrong with this world. It is our passive addiction to ideas that brings suffering. Our bondage is not bondage to the world but bondage to our ideas about the world and ourselves in it.
We escape the infinitude of Being for the transient pleasures of finite beings, things of the world. Nirvana is to be one with the flux of Samsara rather than something inside Samsara. Things are, and that is that; there is nothing to be, nowhere to go, nothing to do, for we are totality itself. We struggle in this flow forgetting that we are the flow. And what is Samsara but Nirvana’s forgetfulness of its own nature. Look into the mirror of the self and remember your nature, I am that I am. World is wherever I am, what else is there to worry about if I am all that there is?
The story of creation is pretty simple if we don’t get caught up in the literal meaning of words. Here it is:
God created man. Later He saw that the product is defective: Man forgets. God then announced a factory recall; we know it as revelation. The decision on our part is either to choose to return to him or not. Of course the decision, if made in the positive, is not a one time thing; we must renew it constantly or else we tend to forget, which is the very reason behind the recall. In other words, our return to the factory is done through the constant remembrance of God. Salvation is really the getting back into the factory. When we get there we are already cured, for the treatment wasn’t so much in the factory as it was on the Way consisting of remembrance. Since we are cured, we remember what we had forgotten: We remember that we had never left the factory, that we were never defective, that we had never left Him to begin with, that the story of creation was our own story made up to fill in the place of the forgotten truth, that we never left the origin. Not that we are God; He is but we are not. It is this Truth that cannot be spoken.