Pontifical Man as Traveler

The Traveler, Seeker, Stranger: Pontifical Man

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The following quotes were taken from:
Knowledge and the Sacred
Seyyed Hossein Nasr  1981/1989

The Pontifical Man [the Traditional Man, or Spiritual Man, the bridge between Heaven and earth] although forgotten in the modern world, continues to live . . .  he is the being who remains aware of his destiny which is transcendence, and the function of his intelligence which is knowledge of the Absolute.  He is fully aware of the preciousness of human life, which alone permits a creature living in this world to journey beyond the cosmos, and is always conscious of the great responsibility which such an opportunity entails.  He knows that the grandeur of man does not lie in his cunning cleverness or titanic creations but resides most of all in the incredible power to empty himself of himself, to cease to exist in the initiatic sense, to participate in that state of emptiness which permits him to experience Ultimate Reality.

Pontifical man stands at the perigee of an arc half of which represents the trajectory through which he has descended from the Source . . . and the other half, the arc of ascent which he must follow to return to that Source.  The whole constitution of man reveals this role of the traveler who becomes what he "is" and is what he becomes.

Journeying from the earth to his celestial abode, which he has left inwardly, man becomes the channel of grace for the earth, and the bridge which joins it to Heaven.  Realization of the truth by pontifical man is not only the goal and end of the human state but also the means whereby Heaven and earth are reunited in marriage, and the Unity, which is the Source of the cosmos and the harmony which pervades it, is reestablished.  To be fully man is to rediscover that primordial Unity from which all the heavens and earths originate and yet from which nothing ever really departs.

Precisely because  of the awareness of his origin of his home, the person in whom the fire of sacred knowledge has become inflamed and in whom the search and quest for the knowledge of the sacred has become a central concern, is already a stranger to this world.  He is an exile constantly in quest of that land of nowhere which is yet the ubiquitous Center and which constitutes his original homeland.  

The theme of the stranger or exile runs like a golden thread through the sapiential [Traditional, Sacred Knowledge] and gnostic literature of all traditions.  After the wanderer drinks the elixir of Divine Knowledge he regains his original consciousness and primordial abode.  His wandering ceases and he arrives after his long cosmic journey at that home from which his true self never departed;"The Place which has no name" say Rumi.

For man to become an exile in this world is already a sign of spiritual awakening.  

The person who possesses the intellectual intuition which enables him to have a vision of the supernal realities cannot but be alienated in a world characterized by material condensation, separation, and most of all illusion.  For him knowledge is both the means of journeying from this world to the abode which corresponds to his inner reality, and which is therefore his home, and of seeing this world not as veil but as theophany [physical, apparent form of the Divine], not as opacity but as transparence. . . . 

Through knowledge the Traditional Man can either journey beyond the cosmos to that metacosmic Reality in the light of which nothing else possesses separative existence, or he can realize here and now that the world as separation and veil did not even possess an independent reality and that the experience of the world as prison was itself a result of ignorance and false attribution.  In either case the realization of sacred or principial knowledge delivers man from the bondage of that limitation which characterizes man's terrrestrial existence and makes him an exile removed from his original abode and his true self.  

The journey to the spiritual Orient by the person in quest of sacred knowledge is the journey to the Tree of Life, to that tree whose fruit bore for man the unitive knowledge from which he became deprived upon tasting the fruit of the Tree of Good and Evil or separative knowledge.


In his book Sufi: Expressions of the Mystic Quest, Laleh Bakhtiar writes about how Islamic architecture, Islamic gardens, prayer carpet designs, Qur'an illustration and poetry have used the imagery of the Celestial Garden of Paradise, as revealed in the Qur'an.  For the Sufi, every element in the Celestial Garden is a symbol for their spiritual-psychological process of uniting with God.  Here are quotes from Bakhtiar's book that relate to the Sufi's spiritual journey:

The four Gardens described in the Qur'an are interpreted esoterically as four stages through which the mystic travels on the inward journey.  The four gardens are called the Garden of the Soul, the Garden of the Heart, the Garden of the Spirit, and the Garden of Essence. . . 

When the mystic enters the Garden of the Heart he finds that it contains a fountain, water which flows, a tree and fruit of this tree.  The fountain is the Fountain of Life or Immortality.  By drinking of this fountain, they mystic attains to the Eye of Certainty, that is, reaches direct contact with the Spirit; for the water of this fountain originates from the Garden of the Spirit.  

The water which flows in this garden is the Intellect, knowledge which has been illuminated by revelation.  Having left reason behind, which relates to the sensible world, they mystic's soul is fed by the Intellect which rules the intelligible or spiritual world.

The tree in this garden is the Tree of Life or Immortality: its fruits are universal meanings which relate all forms and images to the inner sameness existing within all things.  Universal meanings may be taken by the mystic, however, only when there has been a phenomenal image, an imprint upon the soul.

In the section entitled Cosmological Symbols Laleh Bakhtiar writes of the following regarding the Cosmic Tree or Tuba: Tuba, in its macrocosmic form grows at the uppermost limits of the universe.  In its microcosmic form, its cultivation depend upon the mystic.  In a tradition of the Prophet, it is related that "the Tuba is a tree in Paradise.  God planted it with His own hand and breathed His spirit into it."

Ibn 'Arabi [the Great Sufic mystic] describes this symbol in both its forms.  In its macrocosmic aspect, it is associated with the Cosmic Mountain on top of which the Cosmic Tree grows.  The whole of the cosmos is seen as a tree, the Tree of Knowledge, which has grown from the seed of the Divine Command, "Be".  The Tree has sent down its roots, sent up its trunk, and spread out its branches, so that this world, the world of Symbols, and the world of Archetypes, are all contained by this Tree. 

As the Tree is manifest in a macrocosmic aspect, so it is hidden in the microcosmic form.  It is the symbol of wisdom which, through roots in meditation, bears fruit of the Spirit. 


Art as spiritual practice / spiritual journey
The following excerpts are from Richard Pilgram's essay "foundations for a Religio-Aesthetic Tradition in Japan" from the book Art, Creativitiy, and the Sacred, edited by Diane Apostolos-Cappadona. To see more excerpts visit Ritual and Art

Art is thus a kind of spiritual exercise, and its vocation a kind of spiritual journey. Like other spiritual practices in Japan, it is considered a shugyo or ascetic discipline in which concentrated practice seeks to press through to a deeper spiritual fulfillment. Much of what runs through all these arts--at least in their religio-aesthetic ideals--is an in-between sensitivity that features unitive, direct experience understood both religiously and aesthetically, and a sensitivity closely related to nature as a religio-aesthetic paradise.  

Such a sensitivity, experience, or "mind" is called by the great poet, Basho a "narrow" or "slender" mind. Only a slender mind can slip in between the thingness of things, or in between the subject and its objects. As Basho says, "When you are composing a verse let there not be a hair's breadth separating your mind from what you write. Quickly say what is in your mind; never hesitate at that moment. To learn in this art means to submerge oneself within the object, to perceive its delicate life and feel its feeling, out of which a poem forms itself."


Henry Corbin's Stranger
Tom Cheetham: The World Turned Inside Out Henry Corbin and Islamic Mysticism

The soul can only be at home in a world ensouled, animated with presences . . . Only by turning inward can the objectivity of the world of the Anima Mundi be found.  Every birth requires the death of that which came before . . .  Corbin writes: 

"For to leave this world it does not suffice to die.  One can 
die and remain in it for ever.  One must be living to leave it.  
Or rather, to be living is just this."  

This death to the world of Absence is a birth to the Presence of the World and takes place by a kind of inversion; it is a process of turning inside out.  In this blossoming, this triumph of the esoteric, the soul finds that it was a strange in the world in which it had lived, and that now it has come home:

"It is a matter of entering, passing into the interior and, in passing 
into the interior of finding oneself, paradoxically, outside . . . . 
The relationship involved is essentially that of the external, 
the visible, the exoteric . . ., and the internal, the invisible, the 
esoteric . . ., or the natural and the spiritual world.  To depart 
from the where...is to leave the external or natural appearances 
that enclose the hidden realities... This step is made in order for
 the Stranger, the gnostic, to return home--or at least to lead to 
that return."

"But an odd thing happens: once this transition is accomplished, 
it turns out that henceforth this reality, previously internal and 
hidden, is revealed to be enveloping, surrounding, containing 
what was first of all external and visible, since by means of 
interiorization one has departed from that external reality.  
Henceforth it is spiritual reality that...contains the reality 
called material." [Corbin]

In this treatment of the gnostic theme of the Stranger, there is no sense of the pessimistic and the world-denying kind of Gnosticism that seeks only to escape to the Beyond.  The escape occurs in this world, by the spiritualization of this world, not by its rejection.


Related Projects:

"An Imaginary Book" : The Complete Collection of Projects

See my project entitled The Green Light of Sufi Mystical Travel.

Welcome Page  to The Departing Landscape website which includes the complete hyperlinked listing of my online photography projects dating back to the 1960's, my resume, contact information, and more.