"...the Imagination (or love, or sympathy, or any other sentiment) induces knowledge, and knowledge of an 'object' which is proper to it..."
Henry Corbin (1903-1978) was a scholar, philosopher and theologian. He was a champion of the transformative power of the Imagination and of the transcendent reality of the individual in a world threatened by totalitarianisms of all kinds. One of the 20th century’s most prolific scholars of Islamic mysticism, Corbin was Professor of Islam & Islamic Philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris and at the University of Teheran. He was a major figure at the Eranos Conferences in Switzerland. He introduced the concept of the mundus imaginalis into contemporary thought. His work has provided a foundation for archetypal psychology as developed by James Hillman and influenced countless poets and artists worldwide. But Corbin’s central project was to provide a framework for understanding the unity of the religions of the Book: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. His great work Alone with the Alone: Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabi is a classic initiatory text of visionary spirituality that transcends the tragic divisions among the three great monotheisms. Corbin’s life was devoted to the struggle to free the religious imagination from fundamentalisms of every kind. His work marks a watershed in our understanding of the religions of the West and makes a profound contribution to the study of the place of the imagination in human life.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

The Anecdote of the Spoon

On pages 206-7 of Corbin's Alone with the Alone: Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn 'Arabi we read:

This ascending movement involves not only man; every being is in a state of perpetual ascension, since its creation is in a state of perpetual recurrence from instant to instant. This renewed, recurrent creation is in every case a Manifestation (izhar} of the Divine Being manifesting ad infinitum the possible hexeities in which He essentializes His being. If we consider the creature in relation to the Creator, we shall say that the Divine Being descends toward concrete individualizations and is epiphanized in them; inversely, if we consider these individualizations in their epiphanic function, we shall say that they rise, that they ascend toward Him. And their ascending movement never ceases because the divine descent into the various forms never ceases. The ascent is then the Divine Epiphany in these forms, a perpetually recurrent Effusion, a twofold intradivine movement. That is why the other world already exists in this world; it exists in every moment, in relation to every being. [Note 41.]

[Note 41, pp. 354-5]: Fusus II, 151. Here I should like to mention a conversation, which strikes me as memorable, with D. T. Suzuki, the master of Zen Buddhism (Casa Gabriella, Ascona, August 18, 1954, in the presence of Mrs. Frobe-Kapteyn and Mircea Eliade). We asked him what his first encounter with Occidental spirituality had been and learned that some fifty years before Suzuki had translated four of Swedenborg's works into Japanese; this had been his first contact with the West. Later on in the conversation we asked him what homologies in structure he found between Mahayana Buddhism and the cosmology of Swedenborg in respect of the symbolism and correspondences of the worlds ( cf. his Essays in Zen Buddhism, First Series, p. 54, n. ). Of course we expected not a theoretical answer, but a sign attesting the encounter in a concrete person of an experience common to Buddhism and to Swedenborgian spirituality. And I can still see Suzuki suddenly brandishing a spoon and saying with a smile: "This spoon now exists in Paradise. . . ." "We are now in Heaven," he explained. This was an authentically Zen way of answering the question; Ibn 'Arabi would have relished it. In reference to the establishment of the transfigured world to which we have alluded above (n. 10), it may not be irrelevant to mention the importance which, in the ensuing conversation, Suzuki attached to the Spirituality of Swedenborg, "your Buddha of the North."

[At Eranos in 1954 Corbin presented "Épiphanie Divine et Naissance Spirituelle dans la Gnose Ismaliénne," and Suzuki's contribution was "The Awakening of a new Consciousness in Zen." See the Eranos Jahrbuch 1954, Band 23. For more on Corbin & Swedenborg see Roberts Avens' article "The Subtle Realm: Corbin, Sufism and Swedenborg," in Swedenborg a Continuing Vision.]

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