Eye of the Heart: Metaphysics, Cosmology, Spiritual Life

Eye of the Heart: Metaphysics, Cosmology, Spiritual Life

by Frithjof Schuon, Frithjof Schoun

Essays covering a wide range of subjects: spiritual symbolism, the afterlife, and more.


Essays covering a wide range of subjects: spiritual symbolism, the afterlife, and more.

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World Wisdom
Publication date:
The Library of Traditional Wisdom
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Product dimensions:
5.57(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.57(d)

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The following excerpt is taken from the beginning of the first chapter of The Eye of the Heart

The eye, owing to its particularly adequate correspondence with the Intellect, lends itself as it were spontaneously to traditional symbolism, and it is to be found, although varying widely in degree of importance, in the symbolic language of all Revelations. The other organs of sensation — or more generally, the faculties of which they are the vehicles — give rise, it is true, to analogous applications, but with a less central bearing, so to speak: they correspond rather to distinct and therefore secondary functions of the intelligence, or else to fundamental modes of receptivity and cognitive assimilation, which means that they demonstrate less directly than the eye — or vision — the analogy between sensible and spiritual knowledge; among the faculties of sensation, only sight represents the Intellect conceived of as such and in its principle. This evident correspondence between sight and the Intellect is due to the static and total character of the former: sight — just as space, which among the conditions of corporal existence corresponds to it — simultaneously realizes by far the widest possibilities in the domain of sensible knowledge, whereas the other senses react only to influences linked to vital sensibility; except, however, for hearing which reflects intellection not in its static and simultaneous, but in its dynamic and successive mode, and which plays what could be termed a "lunar" role in relation to sight; that is why it is linked, not to space, but to time, the audible being situated in duration. Be that as it may, the most important sensation — or let us say the one which is intellectually the most explicit — is undeniably light, whatever might be the importance of primordial sound, and of spiritual perfumes, tastes and touches. Sight alone communicates the existence of immeasurably remote heavenly bodies that are perfectly foreign to our vital interests, and it could therefore be said that it alone is essentially "objective." Consequently it is only natural to compare light to knowledge and obscurity to ignorance, and this is what explains the wide usage made by the most diverse languages and especially by the sacred Scriptures, of the symbolism of light and sight on the one hand, and of darkness and blindness on the other.

The symbolic transposition of the visual act onto the intellectual plane provides a quite expressive image of identification through knowledge: in this process one must indeed see what one is, and be what one sees or knows; the object in both cases is God, with the difference that He appears as "concrete" in the first case and as "abstract" in the second. But the symbolism of sight is universal and is therefore applicable also to the macrocosm and to all its degrees: the world is an indefinitely differentiated vision whose object in the final analysis is the divine Prototype of all that exists, and conversely, God is the Eye that sees the world and which, being active where the creature is passive, creates the world by His vision, this vision being act and not passivity; thus the eye becomes the metaphysical center of the world of which it is at the same time the sun and the heart. God sees not only the outward, but also — or rather with greater reason — the inward, and it is this latter vision that is the more real one, or strictly speaking, the only real one, since it is the absolute or infinite Vision of which God is at once the Subject and the Object, the Knower and the Known. The universe is merely vision or knowledge, in whatever mode it may be realized, and its entire reality is God: the worlds are fabrics of visions, and the content of these indefinitely repeated visions is always the Divine, which is thus the first Knowledge and the ultimate Reality — Knowledge and Reality being two complementary aspects of the same divine Cause.

But let us now consider the function of the Eye of the Heart in the usual meaning of the expression, starting from the corporal eye as the term of comparison: we would then say that the corporal eye sees the relative, the so to speak "broken" aspect of God, whereas the Eye of the Heart is identified with Him by the purity of its vision; the bodily eye is itself broken by its bipolarization that adapts it to perception, that is to say to the knowledge of the manifested as such; manifestation for its part proceeds from the principal bipolarization of Being into "Word" — or determinant Essence, the domain of the Ideas in the Platonic sense — and into Materia Prima. The Eye of the Heart, on the contrary, is unique and central, like the divine Fact which is its eternal vision, and which, being beyond all determination, is also beyond all duality. Thus the heart lies as if between two visions of God, one outward and indirect and the other inward and relatively direct, and from this point of view the heart may be assigned a double role and a double meaning: firstly, it is the center of the individual as such and represents his fundamental limitation — his "hardness," as the Scriptures say — and thereby all his secondary limitations; secondly, it is the center of the individual insofar as he is mysteriously connected to his transcendent Principle: the heart is then identified with the Intellect, with the Eye that sees God — and that consequently "is" God — and by which God sees man. Essentially, in man there is only the heart which sees: outwardly, it sees the world through the mind and its senses, and inwardly, it sees the Divine Reality in the Intellect; but strictly speaking, both visions — the outward as well as the inward — are but one, that of God. Between these two main visions there is an incompatibility in the sense that they cannot take place together by the same right and on the same level — notwithstanding the fact that the world can be seen in God and God in the world — first because the vision of the world is absorbed and annihilated by that of God, so that from this angle there cannot be a question of any reciprocity, and then because the created exists only by its illusory particularization in relation to the Principle, so that its incompatibility with absolute Reality is implied by definition.

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