The Evanescence of Wisdom


Ancient ideas will still live on for a long time to come. For centuries, for millennia. But the daily traffic of billions of Internet users, what will remain of it in four thousand years?

People have always been eager to communicate their myths, to transmit their dreams, to share their intuitions. These ideas, these forces, are not those of empires and kingdoms. But they have made it possible to build worlds, to bring movements to life, capable of traversing the history of the centuries.

For a long time to come, ideas will still connect people, as they once did.

Megasthenes went to India in the 4th century B.C. to represent King Seleucus I Nicator, – successor of Alexander the Great. In the third book of his Indica, the Greek ambassador stated: “Really all that our ancients have said about nature is also said by philosophers foreign to Greece, either in India by the Brahmans or in Syria by those called the Jews.”i

Wasn’t that already a ‘globalization’ going on? The obvious recognition of a world wide community of concern? Far from suffering from distance, it was religious and philosophical ideas that traveled the farthest, across borders and languages, systems and prejudices, in these times of openness to all sides.

Eusebius also recalls Numenius of Apamea, who wrote: “After quoting Plato’s testimonies, it will be necessary to go back further and link them to the teachings of Pythagoras, and then appeal to the peoples of renown, conferring their initiations, their dogmas, the religious foundations which they accomplish in agreement with Plato, and all that the Brahmins, the Jews, the Magi and the Egyptians have established.”ii

It is a testimony that India, Persia, Mesopotamia, Israel, and Egypt, together with Greece, were then a fertile arc of thoughts and dreams, an immense, luminous, flow of genius at work.

Megasthenes and Numenius testified to the natural possibility of human minds to correspond, to provide each other with signals, ladders, guides and relays.

The 21st century therefore has no real lesson to teach in this matter. It has electrified and digitalized globalization, making it quasi-immediate, but at the same time quite superficial. We know « in real time » the stock market prices in Shanghai, Frankfurt and New York, as well as the number of corpses found after terrorist attacks and earthquakes. But we know less about the initiation of peoples, their way of evolution, their cultural foundations. Torrents of superfluous details abound. But where are the great visions, the profound prophecies staged?

Porphyry, a good analyst, is quite critical of the capacity of peoples in general. Some of them discover, some other just stray. « The oracle of Apollo has said: Chained with a bronze chain is the steep and arduous road that leads to the Gods; the Barbarians have discovered many paths, but the Greeks went astray; those who barely had it lost it; and the God gave the honor of discoveries to the Egyptians, the Phoenicians, the Chaldeans, the Assyrians, the Lydians, and the Hebrews.”iii

Porphyry, a neo-Platonic philosopher of the 3rd century AD, recognized the intellectual and spiritual brotherhood of the peoples who lived in these lands, today called Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran. They shared a common march on the « steep and arduous road that leads to the Gods ».

But the Greeks got lost along the way.

Porphyry adds: « Furthermore, Apollo said in another oracle: To the Chaldeans alone is wisdom, and also to the Hebrews, who are holy worshippers of the God-King born of Himself.»iv

Religion is not enough to successfully take the steep and arduous road that leads to the Gods. It must also be done with « wisdom ». The Chaldeans and the Hebrews were the custodians of it, then.

But today, where are the peoples who speak « wisely » in the name of the « God-King born of Himself »?

iQuoted by par Eusebius of Caesarea. Prep. Ev., Book XI

iiIbid.

iiiPorphyry. Philosophie tirée des Oracles (Livre I)

ivIbid.

Circumcised Ears


Rationalist, materialist minds generally consider the sacred texts of Egypt, China, India, Mesopotamia, Persia, Israel, Chaldea, as esoteric reveries, compiled by counterfeiters to mislead the common public.

For them, treasures such as the Book of the Dead, the texts of the Pyramids, the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Zend Avesta, the Tao Te King, the Torah, the Gospels, the Apocalypse, are only vast mystifications, settling down over the centuries, across the continents.

They are the expression of tribal or clan practices, or a desire for temporal and spiritual power. The social illusion they encourage would be fostered by the staging of artificially composed « secrets » that leave a lasting impression on the minds of peoples, generation after generation.

But broader, more open minds, may see all these ancient testimonies, so diverse, but tainted by the same central intuition, as a whole, – coming from the human soul, and not as a collection of heterogeneous attempts, all of them unsuccessful.

History has recorded the failure of some of them, after a few millennia of local supremacy, and the apparent success of some others, for a time more sustainable, seemingly better placed in the universal march.

With a little hindsight and detachment, the total sum of these testimonies seems to be nestled in a common drive, a dark energy, a specific genius.

This drive, this energy, this genius, are not very easy to distinguish today, in a sceptical environment, where miracles are rare, crowds cold, passions exacerbated.

Not easy but not impossible.

One can always walk between the flowers of human thought, smelling their unique scent, sensitive to the continuous rise of sap in their flexible stems.

The word « esotericism » has become malignant. Whoever is interested is considered a marginal in rational society.

But this word also has several divergent, and even contradictory, meanings that may enlighten us, for that matter.

For example, the Jewish Kabbalah is intended to be a revelation or explanation of the « esoteric » meaning of Moses’ Books. It is even doubly esoteric.

It is esoteric in a first sense in so far as it opposes exotericism. In this sense, esotericism is a search for protection. There are ideas, secrets, that must not be disclosed to the crowd.

It would deeply distort its meaning, or project mud, contempt, lazzis, spit, hatred against them.

It is also esoteric in that it deepens the secret. The text is said to contain profound meanings, which only initiation, prepared under strict conditions, can reveal to hand-picked entrants after long trials. Esotericism is not there prudence or protection, but a conscious, characterized method, elite aspiration.

There is yet another form of esotericism.

R.A. Schwaller de Lubicz defines it as follows: « Esoteric teaching is therefore only an « Evocation » and can only be that. Initiation does not reside in the text, whatever it may be, but in the culture of the Intelligence of the Heart. Then nothing is more « occult » or « secret », because the intention of the « Enlightened », the « Prophets » and the « Envoys from Heaven » is never to hide, on the contrary. »i

 

In this sense, esotericism has nothing in common with a desire for secrecy. On the contrary, it is a question of revealing and publishing what several minds can, through a common, sincere effort, discover about the nature of the Spirit.

The Spirit is discovered through the Spirit. It seems to be a flat tautology. But no. Matter is incapable of understanding the mind. The mind is probably better equipped, however, to understand matter. And if matter can merge with itself, only the spirit can take the measure of the infinite depth and understand the height of the Spirit without merging with it, undoubtedly relying on analogies with what it knows about itself.

Mind is, at the very least, a metaphor of Spirit, while matter is never a metaphor of Matter. The material, at most, is only an image, invisible to itself, drowned in the shadows, in its own immanence.

Jewish Kabbalah developed in the European Middle Ages, assuming obvious filiation links with the former Egyptian « Kabbalah », which also has links with the Brahmanic « Kabbalah ». I hasten to concede that the nature of the Jewish mission reflects its specificity in the Jewish Kabbalah. Nevertheless, the links of filiation with older “Kabbalahs” appear to be valuable subjects of reflection for the comparativist.

 

The various « Kabbalahs » of the world, developed in different climates, at times unrelated to each other, are esoteric according to the three meanings proposed above. The most interesting of these meanings is the last. It expresses in action the sincere Intelligence, the Intelligence of the heart, the intuition of the causes, the over-consciousness, the metamorphosis, the ex-stasis, the radial vision of the mythical nucleus, the intelligence of the beginnings and the perception of the ends.

Other metaphors are needed to express what needs to be expressed here.

 

Pharaonic Egypt is no more. But the Book of the Dead still speaks to a few living people. The end of ancient Egypt was only the end of a cycle, not the end of a world.

Osiris and Isis were taken out of their graves and put into museum display cases.

But Osiris, Isis, their son Horus, still produce strange scents, subtle emanations, for the poet, the traveller and the metaphysician.

There are always dreamers in the world to think of the birth of a Child God, a Child of the Spirit. The Spirit never ceases to be born. The fall of the Word into matter is a transparent metaphor.

 

Where does the thought that assails and fertilizes us come from? From a neural imbroglio? From a synaptic chaos?

The deep rotation of the worlds is not finished, other Egypts will still give birth, new Jerusalems too. In the future other countries and cities will appear, made not of land and streets, but of spirit.

The Spirit has not said his last word, for the Word is endless.

In the meantime, it is better to open one’s ears, and to have them circumcised, as once was said.

 

iR. Schwaller de Lubicz. Propos sur ésotérisme et symbole. Ed. Poche. 1990

Ancient Iran’s influence on Judaism


Henry Corbin wrote more than fifty years ago a vibrant tribute to the spirituality and philosophy of Iranian Islam, considered in its historical depth. The Ayatollah regime was not in place at the time. Taking a certain distance from the immediate history, Corbin analyses the difference between Iranian shî’ism and sunnism which generally prevails in Arab countries, in a book dedicated to Sohravardî and the Platonicians of Persia.

« Unlike the majority Sunni Islam, for which, after the mission of the last Prophet, humanity has nothing new to expect, the shî’ism keeps the future open by professing that, even after the coming of the « Seal of the Prophets » something is still to be expected, namely the revelation of the spiritual meaning of the revelations made by the great prophets. (…) But this spiritual intelligence will only be complete at the end of our Aiôn, during the parousia of the twelfth Imâm, the Imâm now hidden and mystical pole of the world. »i

Corbin also reviews the exceptional adventure of a « brilliant young thinker » from northwestern Iran, Shihâboddîn Yahyâ Sohrawardî.

This « brilliant thinker », who died in 1191 in Aleppo, Syria, at the age of thirty-six, as a martyr of his cause, had dedicated his young life to « resurrecting the wisdom of ancient Persia » and « repatriating the Hellenized Magi to Islamic Persia, and this thanks to hermeneutics (ta’wil) whose Islamic spirituality offered him the resources. »ii

Corbin’s works shed light on the ancient pendulum movement between East and West, and their intersecting influences over the centuries.

Sohrawardî wanted to celebrate the wisdom of the Hellenized Magi in Islamic Persia. What this Chaldaic Magic refers to? Greek Philosophy?

In any case, Sohrawardî was taking a certain risk, considering the context of his time. But he was also a visionary, from the point of view of the long history.

And Sohravardî paid for his vision with his life.

More than a millennium earlier, the Jewish, Essenian, Qumran sects had recognized their spiritual debt to Iran.

Almost intact texts, the Qumran manuscripts, have been found in caves near the Dead Sea between 1947 and 1956.

Drawing on the texts of Qumran, Guy G. Stroumsa, a Jerusalem-based researcher, raises the question of the influence of Iranian spirituality on Judaism in his book Barbarian Philosophy.

He reports on the words of the famous religious scholar Shaul Shaked: « It may be imagined that contacts between Jews and Iranians helped in formulating a Jewish theology which, though continuing traditional Jewish motifs, came to resemble fairly closely the Iranian view of the world.»iii

It seems to me fruitful, in our troubled, fanatical, over-informed and under-educated times, to recognize the richness of the cross-fertilization accumulated over the centuries, which has structured the spiritual geography of this immense area, ranging from the Greek West to the « near » and « middle » East, via Egypt and Israel.

iH. Corbin, En islam iranien, p. III.

ii Ibid. p.IV

iiiS. Shaked, Qumran and Iran : Further considerations (1972).