Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Becoming one's own teacher, part V— objects

Gupta-Vakataka, 5-6th Century A.D.
National Museum, New Delhi

 Becoming One's Own Teacher- Part 5 of 6

It occurs to me that readers might be interested in the question about how objects — that is, apparently inanimate material things — might be teachers for us. After all, they are all "dead;" and if they are rendered into religious imagery, in some religions, they are considered profane. We all know that Islam forbids representations of Allah; Christian iconoclasts destroyed the better part of the fabulous production of Northern Renaissance art by tearing all the churches apart during wars. Objects, it seems, present a danger to the religious mind — at least some of them. To others, objects are just flat, dead things that only have meaning in relationship to their utility or value. The materialistic world certainly sees objects that way.

Yet objects, just as much as living things, represent actual and absolute manifestations of the Perfection. That is to say, every object is a Name of God, just as every living being or force is a name of God. The subtleties of this doctrine can't be appreciated without reading Ibn al Arabi in some detail; yet he captured a truth here which cannot be denied once it is experienced.

In this way, every object embodies God and is not just a reflection of the Perfection (the whole Perfection is a reflection of God) but an absolute manifestation of the Perfection, as it is.

In this way, even the tiniest and most ordinary of objects contain and embody properties that cannot be seen except through the spiritual eye, which perceives in a completely different way than our natural eyes do. The spiritual eye perceives through subtle faculties which have sensations and understandings that are not available unless the Perfection is manifest. When the Perfection is manifest, one understands that a discarded bottle cap is an irrevocable manifestation of the divine, within the constraints and limitations that the material world places upon it — constraints and limitations which God, through His Mercy, voluntarily consents to (suffers) in order to offer us manifestations of His Perfection.

 The Perfection is in this way the teacher — but one can only come to the Perfection through the inward transformation of Being, and the opening of the soul to a higher influence. That is when one understands how objects are, in their own way, both alive and manifest for our edification.

 When we perceive objects as things unto themselves, rather than emanations of the Divine Will, we disrespect them an extraordinary and remarkable ways. All of us are guilty of this; it's a casual activity for human beings. Yet there are vestiges of a right attitude preserved in reverence, sacrament, ritual, and order in religious services and in monastic practices. All of these practices call us to a better attention to the divine properties of the material.

 Naturalistic philosophies, as Swedenborg pointed out, offer us at best half an understanding of the nature of the cosmos; it's important to include them, but if we don't understand the relationship to the spiritual, a great loss ensues.


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

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