Three Dimensional Cross

The Three-Dimensional Cross

Excerpts below are from:
Rene Guenon: The Symbolism of the Cross

Two Crosses Combined
The Combination of the two crosses [vertical and horizontal] form the three-dimensional cross, the branches of which are oriented in the six directions of space, these latter   corresponding to the six cardinal points, which with the center itself form the septenary.  This symbolism (the center being the seventh point) is also that of the Hebrew Kabbalah, which speaks of the 'Holy Palace' or 'Inward Palace' as being situated at the center of the six directions of space.  (See below, Hidden 'Point' )  

The Six Cardinal Points
In geometrical terms, the three-dimensional cross forms a 'system of coordinates' to which the whole of space can be referred; here space will symbolized the sum total of all possibilities, either of a particular being or of universal Existence.  This system is formed by three axes, one vertical and two horizontal, which are three perpendicular diameters of an indefinite sphere, and which, even independently of any astronomical considerations, may be regarded as oriented toward the six cardinal points.  In the text of Clement of Alexandria, upward and downward correspond respectively to the Zenith and the Nadir, right and left to South and North, forward and backward to East and West.  The vertical axis is the polar axis, that is, the fixed line that joins the two poles and about which all things accomplish their rotation: it is therefore the main axis, whereas the two horizontal axes are only secondary and relative.  

The Hidden 'Point'
"It is in this mystery, the invisible origin of things, that the hidden 'point', whence all proceeds, takes birth. . . The comprehensible beginning of existence lies in the mystery of the supreme 'point'.  And since this point is the 'beginning' of all things, it is called 'Thought'.  The mystery of creative Thought corresponds to the hidden 'point'. . . The 'point' is Ether rendered palpable in the mystery of the inward Palace or Holy of Holies.  Everything, without exception, was at first conceived in Thought. . .  From the hidden 'point' emanates the inward Holy Palace, (by the lines issuing from the point along the six directions of space)." [Guenon, quoting Vulliaud]


Excerpts below are from:     
Samer Akkach:  Cosmology and Architecture in Premodern Islam  An Architectural Reading of Mystical Ideas

The Human Presence
The great Sufi mystic Ibn 'Arabi says that the human presence comprises two "exemplars": outward and inward.  Through this dual structure man becomes at once the most universal entity and the most effective mediator between God and the world.  "He is, at it were, a mediator between the world and the Real, bringing together the created and the creator.  He is the dividing line between the divine and the cosmic presences, as the dividing line between the shadow and the sunlight.  This is his reality: he has the perfection of both eternity and newness."

Ibn 'Arabi identifies man by three essential components: nature, body, and figure.  The state of nature embodies the generative pattern of quadrature; whereas the states of body and figure crystallize the formative pattern of triplicity.  The three-fold structure--nature, body, and figure--constitutes the manifest exemplar, the inner face of which corresponds to the three-fold structure of divinity--Essence, attributes, and actions.

The outward modality becomes identical with the world; where as its inward modality becomes identical with divinity.  In bringing God and the world together the human presence itself tends to dissolve, just as the dividing line between shadow and sunlight exists only through the existence of the neighboring domains.

The three states that constitute the outward exemplar of the human presence may be synthesized in the form of the three-dimensional cross, its symbol par excellence.  The four arms of the horizontal cross mark the quadrature of man's nature; the three axes express the three-dimensionality of his body; and the six arms of the cross projecting from the center graphs the directionality of his unique figure.  All are reconciled in the central point, which represents man's centrality in the world.

Man's Body & The Divine Pattern of Formation
The sacrum [the triangular-shaped bone wedged between the fifth lumbar vertebra and the coccyx] is the heaviest bone of the pelvis and the center of gravity of the skeletal structure.  The term comes from Latin meaning "sacred bone".  Ibn 'Arabi explains the sacrum represents the "center" whence the body springs forth and upon which it is symmetrically established.  It is the focal point of growth, which occurs through three centrifugal movements: downwards, upwards, and outwards.  The downward movement unfolds the lower part of the body, from the sacrum to the feet; the upward movement unfolds the upper part of the body, from the sacrum to the head; and the outward movement unfolds the body in the four directions of right, left, front, and back.  Thus the state of man's body refers to his spatial structure in the form of the three-dimensional cross, the divine pattern of formation.

Man's Body & Spatial Unfolding
The state of the body of the human presence exemplifies the way in which the natural bodies expand in space from their source, the point-center.  Ibn 'Arabi describes this creative movement as the God's passion to be known, without which the world would not have been manifested.

The tendency of humans is to grow upward (rectilinear movement), of the animal to grow horizontally (horizontal movement), of plants to grow downward (reversed movement), and of minerals not to grow, to be still.  The synthesis of these three movements, together with the stillness of the mineral, reveals the three-dimensional cross as the pattern of spatial unfolding.

Man's Figure & Direction
The three-dimensional cross identifies at once the quantitative and qualitative aspects of the human presence.  The state of man's figure leads us to consider the qualitative aspect, the "direction".

Ibn 'Arabi says that heaven is what ascends and earth is what descends, and man is the one who distinguishes between what is above and below because he is the one with the directions.  The spatial formation of man distinguishes six main directions: front and back, right and left, up and down.  Front is the direction of vision toward which man naturally moves; back is the direction of the unknown, of vulnerability; right is the direction of strength; left is the direction of weakness; up is the direction of man's head, pointing heavenward; and down is the direction of his feet, pointing earthward.

The awareness of man's uniqueness of verticality has a spiritual significance in the mystical experience.  The concept of 'verticality' is viewed to be a spatial expression of the Muhammadan Reality in its eternal presence.

The Formation of the Word
Describing the creation of Adam, the Quran reports: "So, when I have formed him and have breathed into him of my spirit" (15:29).  Ibn 'Arabi compares the formation of man to the formation of the word, that is to say the way in which letters are joined together to form meaningful, utterable words.  

The process of the formation of words corresponds to the initial stage of the cosmogonic process, when the world is disengaged from the stillness of the primordial chaos, the state in which the possibilities of manifestation, still virtual, are lost in the indifferentiation of its materia.  Ibn 'Arabi writes:  "God first brought the entire world into existence in the form of a well-prepared, yet lifeless ghost.  It was like an unpolished mirror.  But it is the rule in the divine business to prepare no place without it being able to receive a divine spirit, an act referred to as the 'blowing of the spirit into it.'"

The phonetic system of the Arabic language forms the basis of the Sufi notion of the formation of the world.  The addition of the vocalizing motions to the letters symbolizes the blowing of the spirit into this homogeneous substratum, an act that disengages the letters from the stillness of their primordial consonance, bringing them forth into the audible world of sound.

In grammatical terms, the six phonetic motions are divided into two correlated sets of three.  One is "motions of expression"; the other is "motions of building."  A consonant letter that is not subject to any of these phonetic motions is grammatically identified with "stillness".  The pattern of formation constituted by the three phonetic motions--"unfolding" (faith), "raising" (ruf), and "bringing down" (khafd), together with "stillness" (sukun) as the common center whence these "motions" emanate--retraces the Sufi's pattern of cosmic existence, spatial unfolding, and natural growth already discussed.

Ibn 'Arabi says faith signifies the unfolding of existence, raf signifies transcendence, and khafd signifies corporality.  They correspond to the three-dimensional cross, the pattern of triplicity.  

The Tree of Being
Kun (Be!) was God's first uttered word, and kawn (the world) was the immediate outcome of this utterence.  Ibn 'Arabi 's treatise 'The Tree of Being' is a fascinating exposition on his mystical reflections on the relationship between the command and the outcome, the word and the world.  Among the poetic imageries he constructs is the correspondence between the spatial structure of the human presence (the three- dimensional cross) and the "tree" of realities that grows from the "seed" of the divine word kun.  In Sufi terminology "tree" is defined as "the Universal Man who governs the structure of the Universal Body."  The Sufis identify the tree with the Universal Man because both embody the pattern of the three-dimensional cross, which expresses notions of both verticality and opposition.  The seed whence the seed grows corresponds to the center, the heart of Universal Man, which is the place where all complements are untied and all opposites are reconciled.  Ibn'Arabi writes:  "I have looked at the universe and its design, at what was concealed and its inscription, and I saw that the whole universe (kawn) was a tree, the root of whose light is from the seed 'Be!' (kun)."

The Pen, The Tablet, the Exemplar of the World
God revealed his design of the world through the luminous traces the Pen inscribed upon the Tablet.  A reported prophetic tradition says that the first thing God created was the Pen, whose length equaled the distance between heaven and the earth.  He then created the Tablet, whose length extended between heaven and earth, and its width stretched from east to west.  The Pen, thus viewed, signifies axiality, corresponding to human spirituality and unique upwardness, to the verticality of the alif [first letter of the Arabic alphabet, a vertical line], to the trunk of the Tree of Being, and to the vertical axis of the three-dimensional cross.  The Tablet signifies the principle of horizontality, corresponding to the human corporeality, the letter ba [second letter of the Arabic alphabet, a horizontal line with a point underneath it], to the branches of the Tree of Being, and to the two horizontal axes of the cross.  The Tablet aslo corresponds to the circle, reflecting the divine presence, and the Pen corresponds to the point, reflecting the Essence.

Just as the Essence, under the "pressure" of the realities, exhaled the Breath, manifesting the forms of the world, the mother point, wanting to reveal its hidden treasures, gave birth to the multitude of potential beings, and the see of "Be!" after fecundation generated the cosmic tree, so likewise the Pen, after looking toward God with "a look of reverential fear" burst open, the ink of existence flowed, and the exemplar of the world was transcribed.   

Architectural Order
Here I will turn to the architect's side to discuss the tectonic embodiment of the universal order in architecture.  A simple examination of a range of surviving premodern Islamic buildings reveals a discernible preference for geometrically ordered spaces with isotropic spatial qualities.  There was a tendency to organize spaces symmetrically around a central point and to identify, in one form or another, the cross of directions, regardless of whether or not the cross is aligned  with the cardinal points.   Spatial order is concerned primarily with individual spaces that are pictorially and experientially unified.

Concentric composition represents all architectural designs that are laid out about a stationary center expressing the spatial order of the three-dimensional cross in a static manner.  Two models typify spaces thus ordered: a centralized enclosed space and a centralized open courtyard [the traditional design of the Islamic garden].   See illustrations below.

The Ka'ba, Center of the World
In Sufi terms, the Ka'ba's cube-like form is a crystallization of the cube of man.  Its four arkan correspond to the human nature, its six faces to the human figure, and its three dimensions of length, breadth, and depth to the human body.  It is an embodiment of the human as well as cosmic spatial structure and a visible manifestation of the three-dimensional cross.  [see illustration below]. 

The Ka'ba denotes the idea of "centrality" and "peace."  The name Al-sakina, the divine agent that selected the sacred site and delivered the heavenly model of the Ka'ba, derives from sukun, literally "stillness" and has been used in the Quran to denote the ideas of "repose," "peacefulness," and "certainty."  As a visible embodiment of the sakina, the Ka'ba becomes the heart of the world, the house of stillness, the locus of great peace, and the immanence of divinity at the center of the world, the navel of the earth, the sacrum of the body of the world.

Premodern literature on the Ka'ba provides ample references to the notion of centrality, axiality, triplicity, and quadrature; to its agency in the spatial deployment and temporal differentiation; and to its significance in materializing the creative relationship between triplicity and quadrature.  The rich and complex mythology of the Ka'ba shows how a built form can become an integral part of divine geography and a central element in a cosmic landscape.

Ritual Prayer and the Three-Dimensional Cross
In the course of prayer, each individual defines a spatial field by his or her bodily movements that have spiritual significance.  Islamic prayer comprises a prescribed set of gestures and recitations performed in the same way individually or collectively while standing at a fixed point in space.  It involves a series of bodily postures rhythmically repeated in one place with no precessional rituals.  There are four principal postures: standing, bowing, sitting or resting, and prostrating.  The movements associated with these bodily postures reveal four tendencies: upward (standing), horizontal (bowing), downward (prostrating), and stillness (rest).  When repeated in a certain sequence these postures constitute the so-called ruk'a, the prayer's repeated unit or cycle.

For complete details visit  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salah  

Sufis see in the spatial tendencies of the prayer an expression of the three-dimension cross, the underlying divine structure of both human and cosmic formation, and the basis of spatial ordering.   

Thus viewed, the three movements of their prayer reenact the primordial process of existential unfolding.  Accordingly, by the tendencies of their bodily movements, a Muslim in prayer unfolds--in principle--a sphere that defines the spatiality of the boundless bubble of their acoustic field.  

The postures of prayer together with their associated tendencies are seen to correspond to the threefold origin of humanity . . . and to the form of the Arabic letters.

Considering the ritual prayer during the pilgrimage, which requires seven laps around the Ka'ba, in the very act of circumambulation, according to Ibn 'Arabi, one assumes the role of the revolving planets in generating and ruling over the earthly conditions.  In reenacting the "days" of the week, the ritual circumambulation assumes the function of the celestial agents.

[For more on Ritual Prayer click here]


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