Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A matter of substance

Readers will recall that Gurdjieff said everything is material.

 This remark is interesting in light of what Swedenborg had to say about the subject. He had substantially the same understanding about the material universe, although he elaborated on it in more detail. His view — like that of Ibn 'Arabi— is, in essence, that the material universe is created in order to receive the essence of God. It emanates, in a concrete sense, from the essence of God, and dwells within it. Although the universe is not God, it is within God.

Both Ibn 'Arabi and Swedenborg arrive at the conclusion, very much like the Buddhists, that the ultimate nature of material reality as we perceive it is illusory; it doesn't actually exist. It is a reflection, a mirror, of a higher principle, a reflected image of God within God.

 Leaving that metaphysical principle aside for a moment — perhaps we will return to it at a later time — let's take a look at a few of the comments Swedenborg makes in Divine Love and Wisdom.

"Divine love and wisdom is substance and is form. The everyday concept of love and wisdom is that they are something floating around in, or breathed out by, thin air or ether. Hardly anyone considers that in reality and in function they are substance and form." (Divine Love and Wisdom, Swedenborg Foundation, 2003, p. 65)

  In previous essays, I've repeatedly made the point that Sorrow is a substance, not a concept. So it is, as well, with all of the six universal principles, and with love and wisdom themselves. Love and wisdom are material things with material properties, at least insofar as they are manifest within the physical world. Swedenborg goes on to say:

 "...the only difference being that the substances and forms that are love and wisdom are not visible to our eyes as are the organs of our external senses. Still, no one can deny that those matters of love and wisdom that we call thoughts, perceptions, and feelings are substances and forms. They are not things that go floating out from nothing, remote from any functional and real substance and form that are their subjects. There are in fact countless substances and forms in the brain that serve as the homes of all the inner sensation that involves our discernment and volition." (Ibid, p. 66.)

 Readers who ponder the implications here will understand that Swedenborg's understanding of these questions — which was born of an acutely prescient scientific mind— is in substantial agreement with Gurdjieff's. And as to understanding, he said, "thinking from the eye closes understanding, but thinking from understanding opens the eye." This, coming from a confirmed student of the scientific method, indicates that he well knew and drew the same distinctions as Gurdjieff between knowledge and understanding.

 It's also worth considering the questions raised by this understanding that such forces are in fact inner substances, connected with our inner sensation. Here, Swedenborg raises questions that are investigated at great length in a practical manner by the work of Jeanne de Salzmann.

 Swedenborg, like Gurdjieff, Ibn 'Arabi, and Dogen, understood that the action of the universe is substantial — that is, completely material, within the limits of our actual perception — and that cause-and-effect have inexorable consequences at every level.  What we do matters; and it does not matter so much in terms of how it affects the material world we perceive with the eye, but, rather, it matters in regard to our understanding, and the nature of our soul. We may not see that every thought we have has a material effect; yet no bullet is ever fired without a thought preceding it, and it is not the bullet that fires itself; it is the thought that leads to the bullet that kills.

So thought itself kills; and what it kills of the outside world is less than half of the problem. This is the message Bosch encoded in The Garden of Earthly Delights. The outer world, in every detail and instance, is nothing more than a reflection of the soul; and if this does not cause us to step back and gravely reevaluate our condition, what will?

 May your soul be filled with light.

1 comment:

  1. I am so very happy that you have found Swedenborg in your own searching through the world's great treasures. I used to read Swedenborg and the Commentaries by Nicoll at Samuel Weisers shop on E 24th St., and the Swedenborg Foundation had their offices on E 23rd street.

    Your own collating of these different spiritual threads is a worthy project. Did you know that (a real person) Johnny Appleseed became a Swedenborgian and would hand out tracts as he traveled. He took no weapon, and is said to have traveled over 4,000 miles through Native American territory and declared that he never met even one Native that was hostile to him.

    Thank you for your continued and dogged approach to your research, which every so often pulls up gems of great worth from the ground of your being.

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