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Poetic Imagination and HIgher Dimensions

To approach the infinite cosmic intelligence, love, or insight of which Bohm speaks entails that the knower has stepped aside altogether in favor of pure nondualistic awareness.
–Field Consciousness and Ethics, Renee Weber

Here are three poems by Mary Oliver–White Flowers, October, and The Ponds–that doyen of Satori…

White Flowers

Last night
in the fields
I lay down in darkness
to think about death,
but instead I fell alseep,
as if in a vast and sloping room
filled with those white flowers
that open all summer,
sticky and untidy,
in the warm fields.

When I woke
the morning light was just slipping
in front of the stars,
and I was covered
with blossoms.
I don’t know
how it happened—
I don’t know
if my body went diving down
under the sugary vines
in some sleep sharpened affinity
with the depths, or whether
that green energy
rose like a wave
and curled over me, claiming me
in its husky arms.
I pushed them away, but I didn’t rise.
Never in my life had I felt so plush,
or so slippery,
or so resplendently empty.
Never in my life
had I felt myself so near
that porous line
where my own body is done with
and the roots and the stems and the flowers


There’s this shape, black as the entrance to a cave.
A longing wells up in its throat
like a blossom
as it breathes slowly.

What does the world
mean to you if you can’t trust it
to go on shining when you’re
not there? And there’s
a tree, long-fallen; once
the bees flew into it, like a procession
of messengers, and filled it
with honey.

I said to the chickadee, singing his heart out in the
Green pine tree:

little dazzler,
little song,
little mouthful.

The shape climbs up out of the curled grass. It
grunts into view. There is no measure
for the confidence at the bottom of its eyes—
there is no telling
the suppleness of its shoulders as it turns
and yawns.

Near the fallen tree
something—a leaf snapped loose
from the branch and fluttering down—tries to pull me
into its trap of attention.

It pulls me
into its trap of attention.
And when I turn again, the bear is gone.

Look, hasn’t my body already felt
like the body of a flower?

Look, I want to love this world
as though it’s the last chance I’m ever going to get
to be alive
and know it.

Sometimes in late summer I wont’ touch anything, not
the flowers, not the blackberries
brimming in the thickets; I won’t drink
from the pond; I won’t name the birds or the trees;
I won’t whisper my own name.

One morning
the fox came down the hill, glittering and confident,
and didn’t see me—and I thought:

so this is the world.
I’m not in it.
It is beautiful.

The Ponds

Every year
the lilies
are so perfect
I can hardly believe

their lapped light crowding
the black,
mid-summer ponds.
Nobody could count all of them—

the muskrats swimming
among the pads and the grasses
can reach out
their muscular arms and touch
only so many, they are that
rife and wild.
But what in this world
is perfect?

I bend closer and see
how this one is clearly lopsided—
and that one wears an orange blight—
and this one is a glossy cheek

half nibbled away—
and that one is a slumped purse
full of its own
unstoppable decay.

Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled—
to cast aside the weight of facts

and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.
I want to believe I am looking

into the white fire of a great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing—
that the light is everything—that it is more than the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do.

–Mary Oliver


The Perennial Philosophy

The Perennial Philosophy (W. T. S. Thackara)

Perhaps it is best to remember..that like love, most of us are but “halfway” between ignorance and wisdom. If we have intimations of divine realities about which we seek fuller knowledge, or if we seek only to be an active force for good in the world but need a philosophy that will help us to weather the storms of life, and the doldrums, we can be confident that such a knowledge exists which satisfies both heart and intellect. Humanity is not bereft of the compassionate guardianship of the gods and never has been. Both they and their earthly representatives have ever held out the compass of loving-wisdom as the surest guide to our destination. In following the course charted by these advanced wayfarers, not only will we discover what is true in life and what is not, but we will be fitting ourselves to express the unchanging characteristics of spirit.

These teachings are, therefore, no novelties, no inventions of today, but long since stated, if not stressed; our doctrine here is the explanation of an earlier and can show the antiquity of these opinions on the testimony of Plato himself. — Plotinus, Enneads, V, I, 8

There is an arresting thought in one of Plato’s Dialogues, the Symposium (§202-4), that love is the midpoint between ignorance and wisdom, the mediator between humans and the gods, and that through love we attain spiritual understanding.
St. Paul, too, spoke of love in one of the most beautiful passages of the Bible: that even if he could speak all the languages of men and of angels, and had not love, he would be as sounding brass and tinkling cymbal; and even had he the gift of prophecy, knew all mysteries and had faith to move mountains, but had not love, he would be nothing — homage to his Master’s commandment, that “ye love one another as I have loved you.” And in Buddhism, the ideal human being, the bodhisattva who is “awakened” to the Reality behind life’s illusions, is spoken of as possessing mahakarunacitta — the “great loving heart.” He has arrived at the “other shore” of enlightenment guided and strengthened by perfecting in himself the two most important virtues in Buddhist philosophy, karuna and prajna, “love” and “discriminating wisdom” born of altruism (D. T. Suzuki, Outlines of Mahayana Buddhism, Schocken Books, 1963, ch. xi).
The same theme pervades the word philosophy — whose invention is credited to Pythagoras — for the word is a union of two Greek roots: philos, “love” + sophia, “wisdom.” Although usually translated “love of wisdom,” philosophy may equally denote the wisdom of love or, alternatively, “loving-wisdom.” Among the several Greek terms for love, each signifying a different aspect, philos and its cognate philia connote friendship and affection — as in philanthropy, the “love of man” which motivates charity, and Philadelphia, “brotherly love.” Theon of Smyrna (2nd century A.D.) wrote in his Mathematics Useful for Understanding Plato that philosophy may be compared to initiation into the Mysteries, the last part or crowning achievement of which is “friendship and communion with divinity.”
Thus we may see that the principal aim of Greek philosophy originally, like Buddhism and Christianity, was the perfection of love and wisdom as a means to becoming one with the source of life. Moreover, each of these traditions implied that the spiritual quest actually begins with love, and ends in wisdom; that the portals to the heart of Being open to those seized by passion for truth and a deep concern for the welfare of all. “To live to benefit mankind is the first step” — this is a universal, perennial message. Equally enduring has been humanity’s quest for a unifying, saving wisdom.
The idea of a perennial philosophy, of a common denominator rather, a highest common factor — forming the basis of truth in the world’s manifold religious, philosophic, and scientific systems of thought, goes back thousands of years at least. Cicero, for example, speaking about the existence of the soul after death, mentions that not only does he have the authority of all antiquity on his side, as well as the teachings of the Greek Mysteries and of nature, but that “these things are of old date, and have, besides, the sanction of universal religion” (Tusculan Disputations, C. D. Yonge, trans., George Bell & Sons, 1904; Book I, xii-xiv).
It was the 17th-century German philosopher Leibniz, however, who popularized the Latin phrase philosophia perennis. He used it to describe what was needed to complete his own system. This was to be an eclectic analysis of the truth and falsehood of all philosophies, ancient and modern, by which “one would draw the gold from the dross, the diamond from its mine, the light from the shadows; and this would be in effect a kind of perennial philosophy.” A similar aim, with the goal of reconciling differing religious philosophies, was pursued by Ammonius Saccas, founder of the eclectic theosophical school of Alexandria in the 3rd century A.D. and inspirer of Plotinus and the Neoplatonic movement.
Leibniz, however, laid no claim to inventing the phrase. He said he found it in the writings of a 16th-century theologian, Augustine Steuch, whom he regarded as one of the best Christian writers of all time. Steuch described the perennial philosophy as the originally revealed absolute truth made available to man before his fall, completely forgotten in that lapse, and only gradually regained in fragmentary form in the subsequent history of human thought. Orthodox Christianity, in his view, was its purest restoration, and the history of redemption includes the long quest for this wisdom (“Perennial Philosophy,” Dictionary of the History of Ideas, Philip P. Wiener, ed., Charles Scribners Sons, 1973, III, 457-63).
Prior to Steuch there is, to my knowledge, no mention of the term philosophia perennis, although similar phrases expressing essentially the same idea are to be found in earlier writings. The most notable of these is “the perennial wisdom of God” — “theosophia perennis” in Latin texts.
More recently, about forty years ago, Aldous Huxley compiled an anthology of the world’s religious and mystic traditions which describes many features common to this “philosophy of philosophies.” In his preface, he defined it as follows:
Philosophia Perennis . . . — the metaphysic that recognizes a divine Reality substantial to the world of things and lives and minds; the psychology that finds in the soul something similar to, or even identical with, divine Reality; the ethic that places man’s final end in the knowledge of the immanent and transcendent Ground of all being — the thing is immemorial and universal. Rudiments of the Perennial Philosophy may be found among the traditionary lore of primitive peoples in every region of the world, and in its fully developed forms it has a place in every one of the higher religions (Aldous Huxley, The Perennial Philosophy, Harper & Brothers, 1945; p. vii).
Huxley pointed out that he did not turn to the writings of “professional” philosophers in compiling his book, but to a few of those rare individuals in history who have chosen to fulfill certain conditions in his words, by “making themselves loving, pure in heart, and poor [humble] in spirit” — by which they were afforded firsthand, direct apprehension of divine Reality. If one were not a sage or a saint, he felt, the next best thing one could do was “to study the works of those who were and who, because they had modified their merely human mode of being, were capable of a more than merely human kind and amount of knowledge” (Ibid., p. ix).
It is not so extraordinary that the core teachings of every major spiritual philosophy are identical, even though the traditions are separated geographically, culturally, and by vast periods of time. For it was the same theosophia or divine wisdom that was universally given forth by every sage and teacher, the “same exhaustless, secret, eternal doctrine” that Krishna had eons ago imparted to Vivasvat (the Sun), and which has been transmitted from age to age and which he was even then communicating to Arjuna, his “devotee and friend” (Bhagavad-Gita, W. Q. Judge recension, Theosophical University Press, 1969; 4:1-3).
The most comprehensive modern presentation of “theosophia perennis,” with proofs of its diffusion throughout the world in every age, may be found in the writings of H. P. Blavatsky, in particular in her magnum opus, The Secret Doctrine, subtitled “The Synthesis of Science, Religion, and Philosophy.” Taught herself by more advanced students of the theosophic tradition, she wrote that
the teachings, however fragmentary and incomplete, contained in these volumes, belong neither to the Hindu, the Zoroastrian, the Chaldean, nor the Egyptian religion, neither to Buddhism, Islam, Judaism nor Christianity exclusively. The Secret Doctrine is the essence of all these. Sprung from it in their origins, the various religious schemes are now made to merge back into their original element, out of which every mystery and dogma has grown, developed, and become materialised. — H. P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine I, viii
Besides elaborating the fundamental teachings and showing their analogy in nature, H. P. Blavatsky explains how the secret “wisdom of divine things” has been “revealed” to mankind and periodically renovated through history. Referring to an historical event allegorized in the Garden of Eden story, in the myth of the Promethean fire, and also in the Hindu story of the descent of manasaputras (“sons of mind”), she describes how some 18 million years ago divine beings, “perfected” men of former cycles who are native to higher, invisible spheres of cosmic life, blended a portion of their consciousness with nascent mankind, inflaming them with thinking intelligence. In this act of sacrifice and evolutionary necessity, they indelibly impressed upon the “plastic mind-substance” of humanity life’s important truths so that they would never be utterly lost. Here then, also, is the rationale of Plato’s doctrine of Anamnesis (“Unforgetting”): that learning is actually a process of “reminiscence” — “remembering” or “rediscovering” primordial knowledge imbedded in the immortal portion of the soul.
Since that ancient time, restorations of the wisdom-tradition in every part of the globe have been regularly attempted, mainly for two reasons: first, because of the erosive forces which in time disfigure each presentation — namely, that original teachings, usually oral, are imperfectly remembered or forgotten, texts are lost, copies and translations are edited, word meanings change, and people often misinterpret or overlook essential points.
The second and more compelling reason is that humanity is evolving, with likewise evolving needs; and when the cry from the collective human heart is sufficient, a response from the right quarters is made which will fulfill the needs of the cycle then opening. It is well known that the messiahs, avatars, buddhas, prophets, and “god-taught” of every nation have come as reformers and transmitters, not as originators of anything but the “earthly garment” of their presentation, woven out of available materials. Yet it is also to be noted that the messengers are seldom known to their contemporaries, nor is the import of their message fully understood. All innovation attracts opposition; powerful dragons surround the grail.
Our own age, like every other, is replete with “false prophets” whose often fascinating mixture of truth and error has led many astray into unproductive, even dangerous, sidelines. How then, we may ask, are we to determine what is genuinely of the spirit and what is chaff ? Sensibly enough, though it requires persevering and discriminate study, we can apply the tests of perenniality and universality: is the teaching explicitly stated or implied by all the world’s great spiritual teachers through the ages? And, what is equally important, does it bear the hallmark of spirit: is its appeal to the selfless, altruistic side of our nature?
The universe, physical and metaphysical, is all one reality; and according to simple logic there can be only one truth, however limited, varied, and seemingly divergent its expressions in human language may be. The divisive influence of dogmatic theologies, of the attempt to arrogate truth under banners of any kind, including those of science and philosophy, can affect human welfare only negatively.
Perhaps it is best to remember, then, that like love, most of us are but “halfway” between ignorance and wisdom. If we have intimations of divine realities about which we seek fuller knowledge, or if we seek only to be an active force for good in the world but need a philosophy that will help us to weather the storms of life, and the doldrums, we can be confident that such a knowledge exists which satisfies both heart and intellect. Humanity is not bereft of the compassionate guardianship of the gods and never has been. Both they and their earthly representatives have ever held out the compass of loving-wisdom as the surest guide to our destination. In following the course charted by these advanced wayfarers, not only will we discover what is true in life and what is not, but we will be fitting ourselves to express the unchanging characteristics of spirit.
(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 1984.)