Wednesday, September 25, 2013

#148. Struggling with Henri Corbin

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Blog entries beginning with #101 are not essays but minimally-edited notes and reviews from the files I've collected over the last few decades. I no longer have the time and energy needed to sort out and put together into decent essay-form the many varied ideas in these files, but I would like to share them with all who are interested.

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This post contains two short sets of notes about the work of Henri Corbin. It's in two parts: some thoughts about Corbin's basic ideas, and my attempt to express what I think is one of his most central ideas.


1) The most basic of Corbin's ideas is simple enough: humans are non-dual with the Ultimate, so that every person is a unique theophany (epiphany, expression, manifestation).

2) Just as our awareness of the external world comes to us via experiences of sound, light, smell, etc., so our awareness of our "theophanic non-duality" comes to us via the experiences of the energy of the cosmos expressing itself within us via images.

3) This is the experience of only a minority in a patriarchal culture such as ours, and we have no readily understandable words to talk about it easily. The closest available are words from non-Western cultures such as the Native American "vision quest" or the Australian "walk about." Corbin uses the Sufism term "recital."

4) While patriarchal culture seems almost to require a world-negating (i.e., matter-negating and body-negating) language, and even though Corbin affirms the non-duality of anthropos-theos, he uses strongly dualistic words with regard to anthropos-cosmos.

5) More easy communication of these ideas awaits two significant cultural advances: an increased awareness of the dynamic and emergent worldview, and the recovery of the mandalic nature of human consciousness.


Part Two: "PERSON-TO-PERSON"-- thoughts on pp 93-94 of Corbin's Introduction to his book on the "recitals" of Ibn Arabi

The main issue here is the question of what the Abrahamic traditions have in common. Corbin says that the non-conventionally religious or spiritual people of every tradition-- he calls them the "disciples of Khidr"-- constitute a "community of perception."

They see reality differently than do the more conventional literalists and dogmatists, because they perceive reality via that function of the conscious mind called "Intuition" by Jung and "Imaginality" by Corbin. With it, they "penetrate" into the depths of reality, so that what they-- the "disciples of Khidr"-- have in common is the "perception of an over-all unity."

Corbin doesn't expand on the nature of this experience. Here, he only says that Ibn Arabi will provide us with a fine description of it-- in the texts to which this essay is an Introduction.

He moves, instead, in two different directions. One is to offer some brief comments about the visionary nature of Imaginality. The other-- which I think is, in fact, the central point of this whole 100 page Introduction-- deals with what the phase "alone to alone" means. He refers to it a "much misunderstood 'mystical anthropology'."

He begins by saying that each individual person has a two-fold aspect. In addition to the who/what we are (our "self"), we have an other aspect which is not really an other. Here he calls it a "celestial counterpart." Previously he has referred to it by many names, of which I think "angel" and "holy spirit" are the most prominent.

What the names for this other aspect of each person are, in fact, are references to the imaginal images by which we perceive the mystery of human-divine non-duality. And they are "much misunderstood" because, says Corbin, in the conventional context, that divine creative source-- here called Allah-- is thought to be an objective reality separate from-- and equally distinct from-- each created person.

But, he notes, Ibn Arabi says there's also a non-dualistic understanding of the creative source, called "Rabb" in the Quran. Corbin doesn't explain the term, but we have its meaning from Wiki:

It is an Arabic term, found in the Quran as one of the traditional Names of God, meaning Lord, Sustainer, Cherisher, Master. It comes from a root word, yurabbi, which has to do with raising (as in "raising a child") and means something like "fostering things in such a manner as to make them attain one condition after another until they reach their goal of completion." What a delightful evolutionary understanding of the divine-human relationship!

So Rabb is the non-dual divine creative source, specifically understood as being totally active in a most intimately personal promotion of the mystery of ourselves. The role of Rabb-- if "role" is anything like an appropriate word here-- is "fostering, bringing up, nourishing, regulating, completing, accomplishing, cherishing, sustaining and bringing to maturity by evolution from the earliest state to that of the highest perfection" of each of us as utterly unique personal beings. All this certainly sounds like Divine Sophia, as well!

And Rabb is "Lord of all the worlds." He "takes care, nourishes, fosters through every stage of existence, everything that exists."

I think this emphasis on Rabb-- as the divine creative source taking care of, nourishing, fostering through every stage of existence, each human person in the most uniquely intimate manner-- is the essence of Corbin's "mystical anthropology." And what great value it has in the evolutionary context of the New Cosmology and Big History!)

Corbin uses the Feeling function language of the fedele d'amore to take it all a bit further. He says that the particularized (personalized, individualized) relationship between the Lord and his vassal of love goes in both directions. The roles are exchanged, so that the Lord depends on the vassal as much as the vassal depends on the Lord.

I see this as helping "up-date" Louis de Montfort's idea about Divine Wisdom, where Montfort says that "without us, she is nothing." And also Alexander Schmemann's thoughts about our role in the "actualization of the divine potentialities." But Corbin adds something more, an emphasis which, as far as I know, even they don't.

The real secret here, says Corbin, is the Lord's sadness, nostalgia and aspiration to know Himself via those beings who manifest His being. He needs the vassal's theopathy-- that is, the vassal's passionate theophanic experience-- to reveal Him to Himself.

In words a bit more general that of the language of the fedele d'amore, we might say something like this: Rabb so needs each of us that He lets each of us uniquely be rabb for Him.

And this is always in an "alone to alone," says Corbin. I think those words simply-- and awesomely-- mean that the experience is a one-to-one ("man-to-man," "person-to-person") kind of thing.

+++ (Sept 25, 2013) 

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