â€œGod did not veil Himself from thee by some reality coexisting with Him, since there is no reality other than He. What veils Him from thee is naught but the illusion that something outside Him could possess any reality.â€ Ibn â€˜Ataâ€™illah
Reality immediately reveals itself to man as being absolute. The very term implies that anything which does not participate in it is pure nothingness. It is beyond all opposition, beyond any limitation, hence it is without-duality (Advaita Vedanta in Sanskrit). In this principial state (or non-state to be more accurate), every possibility is contained in its pure Essence. From this knowledge, which reveals itself directly to our intuition, it is possible to trace a path leading downward from the principial, to the conditioned state of human and cosmic existence. The Absolute is by definition Infinite, that is to say it is unlimited, and if it were not so it could not be identified with the term reality, which is all embracing. It is necessary therefore that for every possibility to be realized, the Absolute must â€˜radiateâ€™ its content through indefinite degrees and variations, eventually resulting in the diversity of universal manifestation.
A reservation must be made here in order that our statements here are not misunderstood; when speaking of anything which is not the Infinite and unconditioned itself, we are necessarily speaking of an illusion, because from the point of view of the Absolute every possibility is already fully realised and contained within the principle. For this reason the notion of change is completely alien to metaphysical speculation, and any temporal or spatial symbolism that may be employed serves purely as illustration, and should under no circumstances be taken literally, these being conditions which apply only to corporeal existence. In reality there can be no common measure between an endless extension in time, space, or number and the Infinite, because the conditions mentioned contitute their limitations, and limitations can have no part in the unlimited. Modern people are prone to thinking of infinity as a number, even though it cannot be defined numerically. An endless extension in number should therefore be called indefinite, rather than infinite, in order to avoid confusion.
Given that nothing can exist outside the Absolute except in a purely illusory manner, it is central to metaphysics that any object which reveals itself to man is necessarily a symbol which communicates some aspect of the Absolute. Nature exists purely as a symbolic expression of Truth which is its essential content. Traditionalist author Frithjof Schuon commonly employs a spatial symbolism whereby the Absolute is represented by a point, its Infinity with rays emanating from that point, and its third quality Perfection with a circle which binds those rays. In religious terminology these three aspects are often known by the terms God, Love and Creation.
Two things must be understood clearly to make this symbolic expression of metaphysical truths strictly accurate. Firstly, that the point itself contains the rays and the circle in principle, so that these only appear in an illusory manner and from a limited point of view. Secondly, that the point itself, despite being all-possibility in relation to everything that surrounds it, is already limited by its location, and even more so by the fact that its visualization already implies the distinction between subject and object, whereas symbolically the point contains both. This brings us to the most subtle distinction of all. This is the distinction between the unconditioned, and the first conditioned state of existence.
Reality is without any condition or limitation whatsoever. The first conditioned state which may be discerned within Reality is Being. The condition of Being is self-awareness. Although there is no distinction in Being between subject and object, the division is implied, whereas without any condition whatsoever the distinction cannot be made. Containing as it does the elements of Being and Consciousness, for these cannot exist apart from one another, being reducible to two aspects of the same thing. Being is the immediate principle of manifestation, for these two elements are combined in every form, be it the mental form of the human, where Consciousness predominates, or the physical forms of lifeless matter, where Being predominates. It is of interest here that in order for universal possibilities to be fully realized, one of the elements may be manifested to a greater or lesser degree where this is not usually the case. Examples are the diamond, which is, metaphysically speaking, intelligent matter, and the bug, which is Consciousness reduced to a mere animation of matter which is otherwise lifeless. This should suffice as an explanation as to why the former is beautiful and the latter repulsive.
The third element in Being, after Consciousness, is the logical intersection of these two, and is in a sense the reduction of these two elements to unity. This is Bliss, which completes the Hindu ternary Sat (Being), Chit (Consciousness), Ananda (Bliss). This ternary necessarily corresponds to the ternary of Absolute, Infinite, Perfect, which we have already discussed, given that all aspects of existence must be in some way analogous to others, given that they are all outward appearances of the Absolute which is without duality. This law of correspondence is also a fundamental law in the science of cosmology, which we will discuss further on.
Metaphysical knowledge differs from every other type of knowledge because it alone is immediate. From what has been said, it is already evident that the true center of every individual state of existence is the Absolute itself, for it is only through it that they exist. It is only through illusory limitations which apply in a relative way that the being can perceive itself as individual. The realization of our true nature as the Absolute is central to every metaphysical organization, and they expound the various methods by which this realization can be achieved. What they all have in common is the agreement that pure knowledge is fundamentally the same as being, that is to say we can only know what we are, â€œthe soul is all that it knowsâ€ as Aristotle says. It is for this reason that the soul must be pure in order to attain realization. The impure soul which is bound to earthly desires is unreceptive to the Divine, whereas the pure soul is like the perfectly receptive feminine principle. It is the goal of spiritual life to receive illumination â€˜from withinâ€™, so that we move from a state of knowing only through indirect rationality and empirical observances, which are lunar types of knowledge because they require premises outside themselves and do not identify the subject (knower) with the object (known) completely, to a solar knowledge, in which the subject and object are identified with each other, therefore the knower becomes the known and also his own light, no longer relying on an outward source. In the corporeal domain, the moon is illuminated by the sun but still remains apart from it, but in the spiritual domain, when man is illuminated by God, there is no longer any separation between them, as the appearance of duality is now seen for what it is, an illusion. This type of knowledge, which is direct and therefore infallible, much like our knowledge of the individual consciousness, which is obviously unquestionable, is called intellectual intuition by traditionalists, and is fundamental to metaphysical understanding.
Intellectual intuition is inconceivable to most modern people, including and possibly applying with even greater force to modern philosophers, whose theories are always purely rational in nature, and modern scientists, whose theories are always purely empirical in nature. It is because these thinkers always rely on indirect and reflective knowledge that they are never able to reconcile all the contradictions they encounter, and so are forced to patch over these with new and ever more complex theories, which in turn are discredited. The knowledge modern man attains in these fields begins in an illusory realm of opposites, and as such it can never come to any conclusion. Without a central point of reference which would render it stable, the modern men who seek knowledge in these realms wander aimlessly, unable to comprehend the reason for their own impotence. This is not to say that the facts collected by modern scientists are untrue, but they are purely relative, and by treating them as if they were absolute scientists are often draw false conclusions from physical facts, Darwinism being the classic example.
Cosmology is the first science which is usually distinguished from metaphysics. Given that metaphysics is the science of Reality itself, there can be no question of any science being truly separate from it. However, given the position of man in the hierarchy of existence, it is often beneficial for him to study a particular aspect of Reality more closely, through the application of metaphysical principles. In this case sciences may arise which appear outwardly to enjoy an existence of their own, but are in reality a more or less specialized branch of metaphysics. This is of course, the exact same relationship as between the Absolute, and any possibility contained therein which may be singled out by virtue of the relativity of individual consciousness. The proper reason for studying a particular aspect of reality more closely is that it appears directly to man, and therefore acts for him as a symbol and a support for realization of the Absolute itself. From this it can be understood why cosmology is useful.
It may be noted that this conception of science, which is the traditional one, is in direct opposition to the science of modern people, which always takes empirical facts as its starting point and attempts to erect these into a complete theory. Such a science can never be strictly accurate or even particularly useful except in a purely practical way, because it bears only on the most relative information without any supporting principle which would allow it to be integrated into a holistic worldview. For traditional man an understanding of the world as a whole according to its fundamental principles is always more important than an accurate understanding of physical facts, but in the modern world this natural hierarchy is reversed, due to modern manâ€™s inability to conceive of domains higher than the one to which he has confined himself.
When speaking of Being we mentioned the duality of Being and Consciousness that exists in all of manifestation. In this context a more accurate rendering of the words is Substance and Essence, although in relation to manifestation these principles are reversed. In metaphysics the masculine principle is the impassive and immutable void, whilst the female principle is the outwardly radiating and loving Infinitude of the principle. In manifestation these roles are reversed and the masculine principle becomes the giving Essence which bestows form upon the purely receptive feminine principle. This is due to a law known as metaphysical inversion, in which truths which pass from the metaphysical to the manifested realm often assume inverse relationships in the latter. The nature of this inversion can be likened to that of a reflection in a mirror, which offers a relatively accurate rendering of this metaphysical law due to the natural correspondences of lesser realities with greater ones. The Essential principle was called form by the Greeks and the Scholastics, whilst the Substantial principle is the â€œmateria primaâ€ of the scholastics, they could be likened to pure quality and quantity, the intelligence of the Essence provides the Substance with a temporarily intelligible reality in by virtue of form. For this reason all forms are contained as archetypes within their Essence, and it is only through their illusory existence as manifestations that they can become corrupted; this is the nature of ugliness, which we will touch on again later. This view is generally known as Platonic, and indeed, there could hardly be a better point of origin for the westerner wishing to study this aspect of metaphysics. Needless to say, Plato always took the higher principles of metaphysics to be self-evident, and that is why to the modern reader who is unaware of this, many of his assertions can seem preposterous, whereas in reality, it is only ignorance on the part of the reader that could lead to this assumption.
The analogy between macrocosm and microcosm is, as we have explained, fundamental in metaphysics and especially in cosmology. All of the diverse forms are manifested from the same principles, and therefore they all form a network of inter-relationships which traditional science endeavors to study. Nothing can exist unless it participates to a greater or lesser extent in reality itself, and all the manifested forms must participate in qualities which belong to the universal Essence, rendering them intelligible. One science which illustrates the study of metaphysical correspondences is the science of number symbolism, which is necessarily hidden from modern scientists, as are all the traditional sciences. To study this science it must be understood that nothing can exist unless it has a degree of objectivity, that is to say a degree of participation in pure Essence; therefore the integers, though they are used to express pure quantity, must also possess qualities in order to be comprehensible, as there is nothing in pure quantity which our intelligence can grasp unless it is subjected to a form bestowed by the Essential pole of manifestation. One is the reflection of metaphysical unity, which is Universal Being, and so being the immediate principle of manifestation it engenders all the other numbers by indefinite repetition of itself. Two reflects the principle of duality that is Essence and Substance, or the illusory division between Origin and manifestation as such. It can also be seen that all the cosmic dualities correspond in some degree to the primal duality of Essence and Substance, active and passive, male and female, solar and lunar, all possess the same essential qualities. The same can be said of the ternaries discussed in relation to the number three. Another realm in which the law of correspondence is applied is that of cosmic cycles, which we will now discuss in further detail as they concern us directly.
The most general cycle is that of the manifestation and dissolution of the cosmos, which appears for an instant (which is pure nothingness in the face of the eternity or timelessness of the Absolute) and is then reabsorbed. We remind the reader once again that the idea of succession does not really apply here, as this is simply a possibility contained within the eternity of the Absolute itself, but nonetheless, it is from this appearance that time and all of its cycles are generated. Birth and death, creation and destructive, rise and fall, sunrise and sunset, exhalation and inhalation, all these are simply distant reflections of the â€˜breath of the Absoluteâ€™. The science of cycles was known to all the ancient civilizations, and was closely associated with the number four. The human lifespan contains four phases, and these are infancy, youth, maturity and old age. Transposed into the realm of the human collective these become the Satya Yuga, Treta Yuga, Dvapara Yuga and the Kali Yuga of Hindu cosmology. In classical antiquity these ages were likened to the metals, Gold, Silver, Bronze and Iron. It can be seen that these metals correspond to a gradual falling away from nobility, and this is explained that in the beginning of any cycle the manifestation is closer to its principle and then gradually falls away from it in order to exhaust all of its possibilities. Thus the possibilities expressed at the very end of the cycle will naturally be the lowest and most distant from the principle. This is of particular importance because the age in which we currently find ourselves is none other than the final moment of the Kali Yuga, or Dark Age.
It should have been evident from what has been discussed thus far that we do not hold the modern world in high regard. The attachment of man to the material world, his turning away from God and even beauty in a purely emotional sense, his gradual enslavement to his own creations, and his utter impotence in the face of ignorance are all unmistakable signs that this is the final age of this particular human collective. The end of every cycle however, is also the birth of a new one from another point of view, so it should be noted that whilst the world has become hardened to a spiritual influence, it has also begun to grow transparent for those who are aware of the nature of the modern world, due to its proximity to death and therefore re-birth. Naturally every cycle is connected by analogy with every other cycle, so the current state of mankind is not without connection to the current state of his particular cosmic sector, which has itself become spiritually hardened during this cyclic period. It should also be noted that the human lifespan does not in all ways correspond to a gradual decay. In fact this is only the case for the body, which moves closer to death with every day, whereas for the individual being, of which the body is but an outward â€˜clothingâ€™, the human lifespan can in some cases be a spiritual ascent, in which the being returns to the Absolute.This journey can be completed in life or at the moment of death, but is for most human beings living in the Kali Yuga, one which must continue after death, liberation from the individual state not being possible without some degree of pure knowledge within oneâ€™s lifetime.
We must now bring our attention to a domain of existence which is very close to the physical, so close in fact, that even modern people are not able to close themselves off to it, though many still reserve doubts about its reality. This is the subtle domain, in which forms are distinguished, but not realized in matter. This is properly the realm of individual consciousness, and also the pre-figurations of all the elements of physical manifestation. For this reason the subtle realm is also known as the animic state, because it is the immediate, animating principle of the physical. The individual consciousness is undeniably a limiting form, but is not confined to matter; therefore it properly belongs to the subtle state, as do the immediate animating principles of physical elements. The subtle state is in a way a dimension of depth in relation to the physical, in that it goes beyond the physical but is not for that reason necessarily superior to it. For this reason a science such as magic, which has as its aim the extraction of physical effects from subtle causes was not exalted in traditional civilizations, but is the cause of much curiosity among modern people, purely because they are amazed that anything can fall outside their narrow view of the world. It goes without saying that this curiosity of modern people about something non-physical would not occur unless the results were immediately visible in the physical realm. It is in the subtle state that the individual is perpetually prolonged if they have not attained any degree of realization at the moment of death.
The question has often been asked, â€œIf God is the sovereign good, how is it possible that evil exists?â€ The answer lies in the fact that every form exists only by reflecting the Absolute within particular limits which define it. A form, even if it be a physical one, will appear beautiful if its limits allow it to represent the Absolute relative to the observer, that is to say if it corresponds to its essential archetype at its particular level of existence. Thus the sun, possessing as it does the defining qualities of light and warmth, which reflect knowledge and love in the corporeal domain, appears beautiful to man because it seems to be a blessing from above, which provides him with things that he requires for his very existence. By admiring the beauty of this form we are admiring the beauty of the Divine, as long as we are not tempted to enclose it within the limits that a physical form implies; therefore it is perfectly natural to say that God is the sun, but not that the sun is God. An ugly form, on the other hand, is only so by the fact that it is an erosion of certain qualities which make its archetype beautiful, because nothing ugly can exist in principle, that is to say it is only ugly through a lacking, and thus in the final analysis ugliness, or evil, reveals itself as a pure nothingness. There is therefore nothing subjective in the notion of beauty, so that from a traditional point of view it is quite natural to speak of an aesthetic error without any reservations. We will dwell further on this shortly.
III. Religion and Art
In order that every possibility may be realized, it is necessary that the Infinite must manifest itself within limited frameworks; this is the explanation for the existence of creation, and also of evil as we have demonstrated. It also occurs that at particular times, the Absolute reveals itself directly to man within a formal framework, and this is what is commonly known as revelation. Each revelation is essentially the expression of the Absolute at its own level of reality, and therefore, for those who are able to perceive its essence, religious forms are a gateway to Divine knowledge. On the other hand there are those who do not possess the intellectual capacity, at least in their current state of being, to access this knowledge. The former recognize that there is no division between the different religious forms, because a form, due to its limitations, can never be absolutely unique, the latter on the other hand, must necessarily take the dogmatic character of scriptures literally, and this dogmatic character is in fact a mark of the essence of religions in that the Absolute must always express itself in Absolute terms despite the limitations implied by form. It is the mark of a true religion that it will always give to a man everything that he requires to realize his full potential in his state of being, and this is why in a civilization in which revelation is the life-blood, common men do not feel resentment towards their betters, for they are satisfied by their place in the natural hierarchy of human existence. It is only when pure knowledge withdraws from the heart of a civilization, that social ruptures can begin to occur, and we need not go into detail here about the consequences of this phenomenon as it affects the modern world.
One religion that may be called into question here is Hinduism, which does not seem to conform to the statements we have just made. We can only say here that this is because it is the most ancient religion that still lives at the current time, and as such was destined for a people whose mental conditions were such that it was not necessary for the Absolute to â€˜clotheâ€™ itself in envelopes which are impenetrable except for those whom are destined for metaphysical knowledge. The mental conditions of the peoples who were the receivers of more recent revelations were such that a direct formulation of metaphysical knowledge would have been confusing and distracting, these more passionate and less contemplative people required a spirituality that appealed to the passions, although still possessing the essential content that binds all the religions together as a unicity. This leads to a distinction between the esoteric and the exoteric, the former is the essential content of the scriptures, and the latter is its outward form which is comprehensible to all. In the Islamic civilization esotericism has always been guarded by the Sufis, who in this way correspond to the Brahmins of Hinduism, unfortunately it was never protected in this way in the Christian religion, and as such the gradual disappearance of intellectual knowledge in the Christian religion over the last millennia has allowed it to succumb to the decadence of the modern age. That is not to say that pure intelligence has ceased to exist in the formal language of the Church and in the scriptures, these can still serve as spiritual supports for anyone qualified for metaphysical knowledge, although we would make a reservation here for the Protestant denominations many of which see fit to tear down the exalted traditions of Christianity for pure human reasons, needless to say this is not justifiable from a traditional point of view, which always has supra-human wisdom as its basis.
Each religious world is the perfection of manifestation formulated according to the mental conditions of a particular people. As such the formal language creates an ambience in which the Divine Spirit is constantly present. The essentially supra-individual origin of this formal language means that it can be maintained without any effort. Its beauty is self-evident to all those who live within that civilization because it is formulated according to their needs and thus reveals to them the nature of reality to the extent that they are capable of understanding it. This is why in the creation of a work of traditional art; the creator must attempt to cleanse himself of his ego completely, so that the Spirit may manifest itself in the symbol that he creates. This is in stark contrast to the modern view of art, in which the originality of the individual in always placed before the objective quality of his work. Unable to reproduce the symbolic perfection of traditional works of art, artists have been led first into the realm of grotesquely passional and humanistic art, and spiraled downward into sheer ugliness and chaos which only the most corrupted soul could take pleasure in. As we have shown already, there is nothing arbitrary in the science of forms and aesthetics, but this scientific aspect of art has disappeared in modern times, along with its beauty. It is also significant that in modern times art, much like religion, is rigidly separated from the rest of a personâ€™s life, enjoyed as a mere luxury. In a traditional civilization any act of creation which was not conducted as an art would be condemned, because spirituality is always more important than practicality on a physical level. It is due to modern manâ€™s inability to perceive the significance of forms and their influence on his consciousness that he fails to realize how damaging it can be to live in a world of ugliness as all those who dwell in the urban landscape do. Who could possibly be surrounded by evil, for this is essentially synonymous with ugliness, and possess any degree of lasting happiness? Modern man has indeed, constructed a hellish landscape which he endures without understanding the toll his own actions take upon his soul.
Apart from the formal language that religion produces and maintains, it also possesses the aspect of a path by which man may be led back, or inward, to God. This path is, like the formal structure, formulated according to the needs of the people for whom it is destined. Thus a religion destined for the volitive people of the Western world will place a greater emphasis on action than contemplation, although it could never discard the latter, pure knowledge being the essence of every religion. The different paths are most accurately rendered in the Hindu world as the four castes; they are Brahmins (Roughly corresponding to the priestly function), Kshatriyas (Nobility), Vaishya (merchants), Shudra (Labour). There are then also two types which are excluded from society altogether, the first are monks, who are â€˜aboveâ€™ the caste system, the second are the â€˜untouchablesâ€™ in the Hindu civilization, who for some reason or another are â€˜belowâ€™ the caste system. The four societal functions have been present in more or less rigid ways in all of the traditional civilizations, because they correspond to the actual nature of people; each of the religions provides people with a way to sanctify their duties. For the Brahmin spiritual truth is ever present, for the Kshatriya every action reflects the Divine order, for the Vaishya their craft is a reflection of the creative act, for the Shudra their work is the sustenance of civilization. Within each religious framework these duties can be carried out within Godâ€™s presence, they perfect and deliver the man.
The meaning of the word Tradition is â€˜that which is transmittedâ€™, and this means that in a traditional civilization, pure metaphysical knowledge is transmitted from one generation to the next at its center, and with this knowledge the entire formal universe which expresses the Absolute within the sphere of that particular human collectivity. The preservation of Tradition ensures the preservation of the spiritual health of a civilization, however if the transmission was to cease, as it has in the last five hundred years for the west, then a civilization will quickly disintegrate giving rise to all the errors which surround us today. Without Tradition, religion is reduced to dogmatic sentimentalism. Without Tradition, science is reduced to the accumulation of physical facts which cannot spiritually benefit man. Without Tradition, art becomes the expression of the most degenerate and sub-human aspects of the individual consciousness. It is without a doubt the obligation of those who have come to understand Truth,that they ensure that it is preserved at least among a small number of people, so that one day it might once again gain the influence required to bring about a reversal in the procession of events that are quickly leading to the disintegration of humanity on a global scale.