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Frithjof Schuon - Gnosis - Divine Wisdom - A New Translation With Selected Letters

Frithjof Schuon - Gnosis - Divine Wisdom - A New Translation With Selected Letters


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Human life unfolds on three planes simultaneously, or rather the ego
is subject to three centers of attraction, to which it responds in dif-
ferent ways according to its nature or worth. We live at the same time
in the body, the head, and the heart, so that we may sometimes ask
ourselves where the genuine “I” is located; in fact the ego proper, the
empirical “I”, has its sensory seat in the brain, but it readily gravitates
toward the body and tends to identify itself with it, whereas the heart
is the symbolic seat of the Self, of which we may or may not be aware,
but which is our true existential, intellectual, and therefore universal
center. This is in a sense the old triad anima, animus, Spiritus, with
the difference however that anima—the “spouse” of animus—is the
vegetative and animal psychism rather than the body itself; but there is
no sharp demarcation here since we cannot dissociate the body from
its sensations, which in fact constitute our lower and decentralized ego
with its downward drag and dispersive tendency.
The brain is to the body what the heart is to the brain and body
taken together. The body and the brain are as it were projected into
the current of forms; the heart is as if immersed in the immutability
of Being. Body and brain are so to speak the heart exteriorized or
“extruded”; their bipolarization is explained by the very fact of their
exteriorization. The formal world being made up of dualities, the
Intellect, once it has been projected by virtue of its “fall” into material
and psychic substances, is split into two poles, one intellectual and the
other existential: it is divided into intelligence and existence, into brain
and body. In the Intellect intelligence is existence, and conversely; the
distinction of aspects does not yet imply a scission. Scissions are pro-
duced only within the world of forms.
In other words the mind is the center of the body, whereas the
Intellect is simultaneously the center of mind and body; but it is cor-
poreal, of course, only insofar as it is the center of the body, which
means insofar as it is heart. This is because mind and body both reflect
the Intellect, or rather mind and body “are” the Intellect by bipolar-
ized reflection within peripheral and shifting Existence; neither of the
two could reflect the Intellect in a total way, their bipolariza tion being
in short the sign of their remoteness with respect to their common


Gnosis: Divine Wisdom

source. It is thus that the reflection of the sun cannot exist without the
water that receives it; water like the body is the receptacle of the ray,
solar in the first case and intellectual in the second; it has itself a solar
or luminous quality through its capacity for reverberation.
But this projection of the Intellect into the existential periphery not
only results in a bipolarization into mind and body or inward ego and
outward ego, but also in an opening of the mind by means of the facul-
ties of sensation and action to the material world, in which the body
is plunged. To speak of mind is to speak of both an intellectual center
and a material periphery: while being of an intellectual substance, the
mind is turned toward matter, the plane of crystallization, segmenta-
tion, and movement; it emanates from the Intellect and disperses itself
in matter. As we have said, the mind is to the body what the Intellect is
to the pairing mind-body; this pair is the Intellect bipolarized in view
of matter or more precisely in view of sensible or sensory Existence.
The heart and the brain, far from producing respectively the Intellect
and the mind, are only their traces in the body, traces that are neces-
sary by virtue of the body’s “existential intellectuality”.

* *

The fundamental reason for the scission of the “exteriorized Intel-
lect” is existential separation into “subject” and “object”: whereas in
the Intellect knowledge is being and being is knowledge, in periph-
eral Existence knowledge becomes mind, and being becomes body,
without our being able to say however that the mind is “nonexistent”
or the body “non-conscious”; on the other hand it is true that this
polarity is prefigured in the Intellect, which itself also has an aspect of
subject or “knowing” and an aspect of object or “being”, and yet again
an aspect of beatitude or “joy”,1

this joy becoming life in the earthly
creature and uniting the ego-subject, mind, with the ego-object, body;
but in the Intellect precisely these aspects, though distinguishable, are
not separated, any more than are form, luminosity, and heat in the
sun, although they may become separate on earth and from the ter-
restrial point of view.


This is the Hindu Trimûrti, the “Triple Manifestation” of the universal Intellect
(Buddhi): Sat (Being), Chit (Consciousness), Ânanda (Beatitude).


Te Ternary Aspect of the Human Microcosm

The Intellect in a certain sense is “divine” for the mind and “creat-
ed” or “manifested” for God; it is nonetheless necessary to distinguish
further between a “created Intellect” and an “uncreated Intel lect”, the
second being the divine Light and the first the reflection of this Light
at the center of Existence; “essentially” they are One, but “existentially”
they are distinct, so that we could say in Hindu style that the Intellect
is “neither divine nor non-divine”, an elliptical expression which the
Latin and Western mentality will doubtless balk at, but which trans-
mits an essential shade of meaning. Be that as it may, when we speak of
the Heart -Intellect we mean the universal faculty of which the human
heart is for us the symbolic seat, but which, while being “crystallized”
in accordance with the planes of reflection, is nonetheless “divine” in
its single essence.

Every manifestation or creature is distinguished from the Principle
or the Creator by an inversion of relationships, compar able to what we
observe in every reflection;2

a tree reflected in water is upside down,
but it is still a tree, for the mirror changes the relationships but not the

now the manifested Intellect must itself also be distinguished
by an inversion with regard to its non-manifested or divine Prototype.
In fact, while everything is contained principially in the “Self”, the
universal Intellect is on the contrary the content as it were of the mani-
fested Universe; it is the center or the heart of the world, whereas the
divine Intellect is neither center nor periphery: it contains everything
without being periphery, and it determines everything without being
center; it “is real” in “knowing”, and it “knows” in “being real”.4

difference does not then concern intellectual absoluteness, but solely
ontological “situation”: the manifested Intellect, without ceasing to be
“divine” in its essence, is nonetheless subject to cosmic objectification
and thence to an indefinite diversity of lesser objectifications.
We have just said that the Intellect as such, whatever its metaphys-
ical degree, is “divine” in essence; what we have said about the Intellect


This is the law of “inverse analogy” presented by Guénon in his Vedânta.


Nevertheless, to invert is to falsify. The world, while being truth through its
content, is a “lie” with regard to God. God alone is truth.


We put “being real” in place of “being” in order to avoid ontological restriction;
in pure metaphysics God is not limited to Being; He is supra-personal while also
being personal.


Gnosis: Divine Wisdom

in divinis—namely, that there is within it no polarization—therefore
also applies to the universal Intellect, not indeed insofar as it is mani-
fest, but insofar as, being Intellect, it has the nature of Intellect.
The fact5

that “everything is Âtmâ”—and this must in no way be
taken in a pantheistic sense, things “being Âtmâ” to the extent they
are distinct from nothingness and also through their symbol ism, but
not “in themselves”—is expressed by the ambiguity of what lies at
the boundary of the cosmos or the Principle; we have seen that the
Intellect is ambiguous because, while being “divine”, it is also mani-
fested, and the same applies to Being: though already “relative”, it is
still divine. The “line of demarcation” between God and the world
can thus be thought of in different ways according to whether one
is dis tinguishing between the ontological Principle and its creation,
or between the universal Intellect and things, or again between
the Absolute and the relative, the Real and the unreal, the Self and
its objectifications, Paramâtmâ and Mâyâ; in this last case, which
metaphysically is the most important and “most true”, the “personal
God”—Being—is found on “this side” of the “demarcation line”, for He
is already objectivized in relation to the absolute Subject, the Self, or
rather He is the principial objectifica tion, that from which all others
result, though without “emanation”, since Being is Principle; Being is
“God”, and yet it is already “relativity” or “lesser absoluteness” in rela-
tion to Beyond-Being.6

On the other hand, when one distinguishes
between the personal and creator God and the creation, the “line”
in question separates the ontolo gical Principle from its manifesta-
tion or Being from existences; hence it is situated “below” the “line”
separating Reality and non-reality,7

or the Absolute and the relative, or
the Self and “illusion”. Finally, when we distinguish between the Intel-
lect and the ego—the ego being mental and corporeal—the “line of
demarcation” between “Divine” and “created” crosses the actual “ter-
ritory” of the created and is therefore situated “below” the preceding
line. In other words Being is “ambiguous” because it is at the same


The word “fact” has only a verbal function here, for it goes without saying that
a principial reality is not a “fact”.


This is the Eckhartian distinction between Gott (God) and Gottheit (God-



Or “lesser reality”, according to the point of view.


Te Ternary Aspect of the Human Microcosm

time absolute and relative or because it is absolute while being situ-
ated in relativity, or again—to express ourselves more boldly though
perhaps all the more suggestively—because it is the “relative Absolute”.
In an analogous way, the Intellect is “ambiguous” because it is at the
same time divine and human, uncreated and created, principial and
mani fested, which Being never is; the Intellect is “Principle manifest”
whereas Being is “Principle determined” or “made relati ve”, but always
non-manifested. The ambiguity of the “partition” between the two
great orders of Reality appears as if in one case manifestation had
“encroached” on the Principle while in the other the Principle had
“encroached” on manifestation.

* *

Looking at man from the outside, we can distinguish two formal ele-
ments, the body and the head, and we can say that each alike manifests
a third element that is hidden, namely, the heart. The outward man
is perfect to the extent that his face and body express the heart, not
only by beauty but also, and indeed above all, by interiorization; this
is what the sacred image of the Buddha conveys by the immutable
majesty of the face with half-closed eyes and also by the symmetry
and calm of the pose and by the gesture indicating silence, cessation,
return to the center, con templation: this is preeminently the image
of the Heart-Intellect penetrating right into the body and absorbing
it in its own infinitude. Spirituality, all things considered, is nothing
other than the penetration of the mind-body by the Intellect, which
as it were advances upon it, fills it, and transforms it for the sake of
God; but it is also the return—not by “projection” this time, but by
“absorption”—of the mind-body into the Intellect. This allows one to
understand that the fundamental yogic posture—which the image of
the Buddha transposes onto the plane of sacramental art—is derived
from a veritable alchemy of forms and centers. Sometimes the Buddha
is represented standing and sometimes lying on one side;8

he is con-
templative in action (upright position) as well as in non-action (seated


The Koran teaches that God should be remembered “standing upright, seated,
and lying on one side”, which refers to the same symbolism.


Gnosis: Divine Wisdom

position); his sleep is wakefulness, and his waking sleep (lying posi-
tion). Sapiential sanctity is the sleep of the ego and the waking of the
Self or Void; the moving surface of our being must sleep, for “I sleep,
but my heart waketh.” It is not disinterested activity that must sleep,
but the life of the instincts, the passional comings and goings of the
soul. Man’s habitual dream lives in the past and the future: the soul is
as if suspended in the past and at the same time swept along by the
future instead of reposing in Being. God is “Being” in the absolute
sense, that is, insofar as He is Essence and not determination or move-
ment; He loves what is in conformity with Being, so that in the soul it
is the aspect “being” that He loves above all; this aspect joins with that
of “consciousness”, and this amounts to saying that to return to our
“being” is to realize pure “consciousness”. God loves our actions only
insofar as they are expressions of our “being” or ways toward it; our
activity in itself is without importance.
The ternary “heart-brain-body”—or “Intellect-mind-body”—is
prefigured in the ternary “Self-Spirit-World”: just as the divine
Spirit—universal Intellect—and the macrocosm, of which it is the
luminous and celestial center, together constitute a bipolarized pro-
jection of the Self in “existential nothingness”, so too the mind and
the body it illumines and directs project the Intellect into the exis-
tential periphery, which is the realm of alternations; and just as the
Self is “absent” from manifestation as such, which covers it like a veil
while of necessity also expressing it—for “to exist” is “to express”—so
too the heart is hidden in man while head and body, mind-intel-
ligence and body-existence, are outwardly visible. The heart is to
head and body what the Self is to the Spirit and man. If “the Word
is made flesh”, it is because the Heart-Intellect has penetrated all
the way into the corporeal night in order to reintegrate “projected”
or “separated” existence into the unity and peace of pure Being.


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