“Withdraw into yourself and look. And if you do not find yourself beautiful, act as does the creator of a statue that is to be made beautiful; he cuts away here, he smoothes there, he makes this line lighter, this other purer, until a lovely face has grown upon his work. So do you also; cut away all that is excessive, straighten all that is crooked, bring light to all that is in shadow,; labor to make all one glow of beauty and never cease chiseling your statue until there shall shine out on you from it you the godlike splendor of virtue, until you shall see the perfect goodness established in the stainless shrine. ” – Plotinus, Enneads.1
In the last three posts I summarized ultimate reality as presented by the third century philosopher and father of Neo-Platonism, Plotinus. In brief, Plotinus describes two realms; first the transcendental consisting of a hierarchy with The One at the pinnacle over The Intellectual Principle which in turn is above the Soul. The second realm, the material world, is lower than the Soul, but a beautiful symbol of the transcendental domain. Human beings traverse these dimensions as physical beings with an immaterial soul and free will.
Unlike earlier Western philosophers, Plotinus also reveals the means by which we can connect to the transcendental realm and achieve mystical union with The One, a journey he calls the Dialectic of the Return. It begins simply enough as an innate desire to know the higher realm. This desire, which he suggests is universal among people, originates in the center of the soul (also the ‘Eye of the Soul’) or Kentron in Biblical Greek – the peak or apex of human being, the point where the soul links to God.2 This we learn is the area of mystic experience. Plotinus goes on to identify a three stage process.
The first stage – the Propadeutic or Apohatic – is crossed by separation from the realm of multiplicity and entry into the realm of The Intelligence (Forms).3 It begins with withdrawal into the purified self (see introductory quote). Next comes a twofold purgation of the mind: (1) qualitative – successive transposing of the object of one’s thoughts to a plane progressively more immaterial and spiritual; more disengaged from the sense realm and more aligned with the Intelligible, and (2) quantitative – progressive detachment from the singular or individualities, separation from the changing and incidental to the immovable, essential, and fixed.4
(continued next post)
1Abhayananda, S. History of Mysticism. Atma Books, Olympia, Washington, 1996.ISBN 0-914557-09-2, page 148.
2O’Brien, Elmer, The Essential Plotinus. The New American Library, New York, N.Y., 1964, pages 29-30.
3Ibid., page 21.
4Ibid., pages 16-17.