Excerpts from “The Eye of the Heart”
The following excerpt is taken from the beginning of the first chapter of The Eye of the Heart: Metaphysics, Cosmology, Spiritual Life
by Frithjof Schuon
(from the first section, Metaphysics and Cosmology) :
The Eye of the Heart
The eye, owing to its particularly adequate correspondence with the Intellect, lends itself as it were spontaneously to traditional symbolism, and it is to be found, although varying widely in degree of importance, in the symbolic language of all Revelations. The other organs of sensation—or more generally, the faculties of which they are the vehicles—give rise, it is true, to analogous applications, but with a less central bearing, so to speak: they correspond rather to distinct and therefore secondary functions of the intelligence, or else to fundamental modes of receptivity and cognitive assimilation, which means that they demonstrate less directly than the eye—or sight—the analogy between sensible and spiritual knowledge; among the faculties of sensation, only sight represents the Intellect conceived of as such and in its principle. This evident correspondence between sight and the Intellect is due to the static and total character of the former: sight realizes in simultaneous mode—as does space, which among the conditions of corporeal existence corresponds to it—by far the widest possibilities in the domain of sensible knowledge, whereas the other senses react only to influences linked to vital sensibility; hearing should be excepted, however, for it reflects intellection not in its static and simultaneous, but in its dynamic and successive mode, and which plays what could be termed a “lunar” role in relation to sight; that is why it is linked, not to space, but to time, the audible being situated, finally, in duration.(1) Be that as it may, the most important sensation—or let us say the one which is intellectually the most explicit—is undeniably light, whatever might be the importance of primordial sound, and of spiritual perfumes, tastes, and touches. Sight alone communicates to our perception the existence of immeasurably remote heavenly bodies that are perfectly foreign to our vital interests, and it could therefore be said that it alone is essentially objective.(2) Consequently, natural to compare light to knowledge and darkness to ignorance, and this is what explains the wide use made by the most diverse languages, and especially the sacred Scriptures, of the symbolism of light and sight on the one hand, and of darkness and blindness on the other.
The symbolic transposition of the visual act onto the intellectual plane provides a quite expressive image of identification through knowledge: in this process one must indeed see what one is and be what one sees or knows; the object in both cases is God, with the difference however that He appears as “concrete” in the first case and as “abstract” in the second. But the symbolism of sight is universal and is therefore applicable also to the macrocosm and to all its degrees: the world is an indefinitely differentiated vision whose object in the final analysis is the divine Prototype of all that exists and, conversely, God is the Eye that sees the world and which, being active where the creature is passive, creates the world by His vision, this vision being act and not passivity;(3) thus the eye becomes the metaphysical center of the world of which it is at once the sun and the heart.(4) God sees(5) not only the outward, but also—or rather with greater reason—the inward, and it is this latter vision that is the more real one, or strictly speaking, the only real one, since it is the absolute or infinite vision of which God is at once the Subject and the Object, the Knower and the Known. The universe is merely vision or knowledge, in whatever mode it may be realized, and its entire reality is God: the worlds are fabrics of visions,(6) and the content of these indefinitely repeated visions is always the Divine, which is thus the first Knowledge and the ultimate Reality(7) — Knowledge and Reality being two complementary aspects of the same divine Cause.
But let us now consider the function of the Eye of the Heart in the usual meaning of the expression, starting from the corporeal eye as the term of comparison: we would then say that the corporeal eye sees the relative, the so to speak broken aspect of God, whereas the Eye of the Heart(is identified with Him by the purity of its vision; the bodily eye is itself broken by its bipolarization that adapts it to perception, that is to say to the knowledge of the manifested as such; manifestation for its part proceeds from the principial bipolarization of Being into Word—or determining Essence, the domain of the Ideas in the Platonic sense—and into Materia Prima.(9) The Eye of the Heart, on the contrary, is unique and central, like the divine Face(10) which is its eternal vision, and which, being beyond all determination, is also beyond all duality. Thus the heart lies as if between two visions of God, one outward and indirect and the other inward and relatively direct,(11) and from this point of view the heart may be assigned a double role and a double meaning: firstly, it is the center of the individual as such and represents his fundamental limitation — his “hardness,” as the Scriptures say — and thereby all his secondary limitations; secondly, it is the center of the individual insofar as he is mysteriously connected to his transcendent Principle: the heart is then identified with the Intellect,(12) with the Eye that sees God — and that consequently “is” God — and by which God sees man. In man, finally, it is only the heart that sees: outwardly, it sees the world through the mind and the senses, and inwardly, it sees the divine Reality in the Intellect; but strictly speaking, both visions—the outward as well as the inward— are but one, that of God. Between these two main visions there is an incompatibility in the sense that they cannot take place side by side in the same way and on the same level—notwithstanding the fact that the world can be seen in God and God in the world—firstly because the vision of the world is absorbed and annihilated by that of God, so that from this angle there cannot be a question of any reciprocity, and then because the created exists only due to its illusory particularization in relation to the Principle, so that its incompatibility with absolute Reality is implied by definition.
1. In a certain sense, the sun makes space known and the moon time.
2. Hearing is subjective—but not vital as are scent, taste, and touch—in the sense that it communicates things to us insofar as they concern us; sight communicates things to us only—and thereby all the more fully—insofar as they “are”, not insofar as they “speak” to us. The comparison between music—an exclusively auditory art— and painting—an exclusively visual art—is altogether significant in this respect. As for speech, it is addressed by definition to an auditor; for instance, if a written divine Name appears to us with the impersonality of a doctrine, the same Name, as soon as it is uttered and heard, has the function of a call; the distinction between the metaphysical and the initiatic perspectives—insofar as such a distinction is possible and relatively legitimate—clearly appears here and also explains the fundamental part played by incantation in methods of spirituality.
3. Here, traditional symbolism will preferably involve Speech — the Word — owing to its immediate intelligibility.
4. There are numerous and profound correspondences between the eye, the heart, and the sun, which often makes it possible to consider them as synonymous. The eye is the sun of the body, as the heart is the sun of the soul, and the sun is at once the eye and the heart of the sky.
5. God as “Seer,” sees Himself as well as the world, including the minutest contingency — an “ant in the desert,” to quote an expression of the Prophet. This, by the way, excludes all pantheism as well as all deism.
6. A world is thus a collective and yet homogeneous dream whose constitutive elements are obviously compossibilities. Subjectivists falsely inspired by Hindu doctrine readily forget that the world is in nowise the illusion of a single individual; in reality it is a collective illusion within another collective illusion, that of the whole cosmos.
7. In Hindu doctrine, the pole “Knowledge” is designated by the term Chit and the pole “Reality” by the term Sat; in the human microcosm, one can distinguish the poles “intelligence” and “will” or at a more outward degree, “thought” and “action.”
8. Before the Sufis, this same expression(Oculus Cordis) was used by Saint Augustine and others; it is connected with the well-known theory of this Father and the Doctors who followed him, according to which the human intellect is enlightened by divine Wisdom. The question of knowing whether or not there is a historical connection between the “Eye of the Heart” of Plotinian doctrine (ὁ μόνος ὀϕθαλμός), Augustinian doctrine, and Sufi doctrine (‘Ayn al-Qalb) is doubtless unsolvable and in any case unimportant from the standpoint at which we place ourselves; it suffices to know that this idea is fundamental and is encountered almost everywhere. Let us not forget to mention that Saint Paul, in the Epistle to the Ephesians, speaks of the “eyes of your heart” (illuminatos oculos cordis vestri, ut sciatis . . .) (1:18). On the other hand, it is hardly necessary to recall that according to the eighth beatitude of the Sermon on the Mount, it is they whose hearts are pure who shall see God.
9. In Hindu doctrine: Purusha and Prakriti, the male and female Principles. Sometimes the latter is considered as active and the former as passive, because woman is active as mother; she produces children, whereas man, in the sole respect of enjoyment, is passive.
10. The “Face of God” (Wajhu ’Llāh) in Sufi symbolism, represents the divine essence (Dhātu ’Llāh, the Quiddity or Aseity, ὕπαρξις in Greek theology), that is to say, Reality veiled firstly by the innumerable degrees of universal Manifestation, then by the “Spirit” (Ar-Rūh) which is its center as well as its “luminous Essence” (An-Nūr), and finally by Being itself; that is why the “Face of God” is also called the “absolutely Invisible” (Al-Ghayb al-mutlaq), or the “Invisible of invisibles” (Ghayb al-ghuyūb).
11. There is a contradiction in terms here that cannot be avoided in such a case.
12. In this respect, it should be recalled that according to Meister Eckhart’s expression, the Intellect is “uncreated”: Aliquid est in anima quod est increatum et increabile; si tota anima esset talis, esset increata et increabilis, et hoc est Intellectus. One should never lose sight of the distinction between the uncreated and the created Intellect, the latter being the vehicle of the former. In Hindu doctrine, the first is Chit and the second Buddhi, both being, in Christian theology, the Holy Spirit, which is always envisaged in its aspect of essential unity and not that of the degrees of universal affirmation; furthermore, the Holy Spirit, in accordance with the specifically religious point of view, which is sacramental, hence excluding the natural aspects of the supernatural, is hardly considered as “naturally” inhering in man. The texts that speak only of the uncreated Intellect always imply the other, which amounts to saying that they mention it implicitly; on the other hand, when it is said that the seat or place of actualization of the Intellect is the subtle or animic heart, it is always the created Intellect that is in question a priori and in an immediate fashion, even when, through essential synthesis and by omitting a link in the train of thought, one attributes to this Intellect the uncreated character of the divine Intelligence. Be that as it may, it goes without saying that the created Intellect is supra-rational like its unmanifested prototype.