The Garden of Earthly Delights, Hieronymus Bosch, central panel
the Prado, Madrid
I use the word "all," even though it's obvious a single painting cannot come anywhere near close to expressing all of the aspects of anything. It does, however, present the viewer with an overwhelming group of impressions, which has baffled human beings for generations, because so much of what is taking place appears to be extraordinary, inexplicable, mysterious — even though all the activities are engaged in by human beings and various, to one extent or another, recognizable creatures or combinations thereof.
The central panel of the painting is an expression of what Ibn Arabi would have called "thoughts in the Mind of God," that is, iterations of the Divine Consciousness as it arises and expresses itself in the form of personhood. In his writings, Arabi explained that the thoughts of the Divine, or Transcendent, are infinite, so much so that they extend beyond anything we are able to think of — and, in fact, include not only everything we could ever think of, but also everything we cannot think of — up to and including things that cannot be thought of at all. Divine Consciousness is absolutely and irrevocably comprehensive, and all of the arising of the material is an immediate, limited, cosmologically local expression of a tiny group of those thoughts.
An infinitesimally tiny group.
Here in this painting, what is being expressed is that all of those arisings are personal — that is, each one represents an aspect of the personhood, the essential personal consciousness, Being, and thought process of the Divine. This has implications which will be explored in a little while; but what we need to focus on here is the tangible, personal, sensual, aware, and engaged interaction of all the figures in the painting — not the individual actions, but the collectively fecund and extraordinary expression of Being that takes place in this Divine space, which is, for all intents and purposes, a Garden of Eden.
The absolute absence of any devices, tools, or insignias of man in this section of the painting are meant to set it apart from all of Bosch's other paintings, because they represent a Divine space. One might say that this particular panel is the Mind of God with all its iterations, everything that it can express within the material, overseen and organized by the engines of Divine Awareness (the five towers in the background) which drive the machine of the universe. There are no human machines in this central panel of the painting because the emphasis is on the machinery of the Divine.
Readers may recognize consonance between this extraordinary flowering of Being in an extraordinarily beautiful landscape and Gurdjieff's descriptions of the Holy Planet Purgatory. What is important, I believe, is to recognize that the connection between personhood and the Divine Consciousness is illustrated in all of its profusion here; and on a cosmological level (as opposed to a personal one, which is what I treated in exhaustive detail in my book on the subject) this describes the nature of God as Being, arising and manifested within the personal.
Many individuals engaged in both scientific and spiritual quests these days seem to think there is some impersonal level on which one can experience life and the universe. What is "objective" is often, in one peculiar way or another, interpreted as being impersonal; and indeed, this odd belief in the impersonal rules the world of Western science and much of academia, as well as numerous flavors and nuances of philosophy and transcendentalist practice.
That is to say, the idea is afoot in both the spiritual and the secular sections of society that the personal must somehow be "removed" from things in order to understand them more properly; whereas in fact, this understanding is precisely and exactly inverted, and the real case is that one can never understand anything whatsoever except personally, because the nature of Being, and of the arising of manifestation and creation, are fully dependent on personhood.
This is the phenomenon lies at the root of all arising, a point Swedenborg tried to make which has been increasingly obscured in modern times.
More on this in the next post.