"...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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Friday, July 25, 2008

Selected Quotations

On Prayer

Prayer is not a request for something: it is the expression of a mode of being, a means of existing and of causing to exist, that is, a means of causing the God who reveals himself to appear, of 'seeing' Him, not to be sure, in His essence, but in the form which precisely He reveals by revealing Himself by and to that form... Prayer is the highest form, the supreme act of the Creative Imagination. - Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn Arabi, 248

On Philosophy

Hegel said that philosophy turns the world inside out, but this world is here and now inside out. The ta'wil and prophetic philosophy consist in putting it right side out once more. - Spiritual Body & Celestial Earth, xiii

To be a philosopher is to take to the road, never settling down in some place of satisfaction with a theory of the world, not even a place of reformation, nor of some illusory transformation of the conditions of this world. It aims for self-transformation, for the inner metamorphosis, which is implied by the notion of a new or spiritual rebirth. The adventure of the mystical philosopher is essentially seen as a voyage which progresses towards the Light. - The Theme of the Voyage and the Messenger, 140

On Life and Death

The past and the future are not attributes of exterior things; they are attributes of the soul itself. It is we who are living or dead, and who are responsible for the life and death of these things. - En Islam Iranien, v. 1, 37

The decision of the future falls to the soul, depends upon how the soul understands itself, upon its refusal or acceptance of a new birth. - Avicenna & the Visionary Recital, 10

...to leave this world, it does not suffice to die. One can die and remain in it forever. One must be living to leave it. Or rather, to be living is just this. - Cyclical Time in Ismaili Gnosis, 58

On Spiritual Reality & Imagination

For all our esotericists, the interior world designates the spiritual reality of the supersensible universe which, while a spiritual reality, is that which encircles and envelopes the reality of the external world... 'To leave' that which we commonly call the exterior world is an experience not at all 'subjective' but as 'objective' as possible, but it is difficult to transmit this to a spirit wanting to be modern. - En Islam Iranien v. 1, 82

The Active Imagination guides, anticipates, molds sensory perception; that is why it transmutes sensory data into symbols. The Burning Bush is only a brushwood fire if it is merely perceived by the sensory organs. In order that Moses may perceive the Burning Bush and hear the Voice calling him 'from the right side of the valley' - in short, in order that there may be a theophany - an organ of trans-sensory perception is needed. - Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn 'Arabi, 80

…The seriousness of the role of the Imagination is stressed by our [Iranian] philosophers when they state that it can be 'the Tree of Blessedness' or on the contrary 'the Accursed Tree' of which the Qur'an speaks… The imaginary can be innocuous, the imaginal never can. - Spiritual Body & Celestial Earth, vii-x.

On the Angel

Whether it be Metatron as the protos Anthropos and Active Intelligence, or the Active Intelligence as Holy Spirit and Archangel Gabriel, or as Holy Spirit and Angel of Humanity in the philosophy of Ishraq, the same figure never ceases to manifest itself to mental vision under this angelophany. - Avicenna & the Visionary Recital, 67

In the perspective of the Paraclete, the three Abrahamic faiths can come together in the same city-temple. - Temple & Contemplation, 338

Every physical or moral entity, every complete being or group of beings belonging to the world of Light...has its Fravarti. What they announce to earthly beings is...an essentially dual structure that gives to each one a heavenly archetype or Angel, whose earthly counterpart he is. - Spiritual Body & Celestial Earth, 9

The history of the modern West is the history of "l'homme sans Fravarti." - Le paradoxe du monotheisme, 253

It is this Fravarti which gives its true dimension to the person. The human person is only a person by virtue of this celestial dimension, archetypal, angelic, which is the celestial pole without which the terrestrial pole of his human dimension is completely depolarized in vagabondage and perdition. - Le paradoxe du monotheisme, 243

It may befall a soul to 'die' as a soul can die, by falling below itself, below its condition of a human soul: by actualizing in itself its bestial and demonic virtuality. This is its hell, the hell that it carries in itself - just as its bliss is its elevation above itself, flowering of its angelic virtuality. Personal survival cannot then be thought of as purely and simply prolonging the status of the human condition, the 'acquired dispositions.' The latter doubtless concern what we call the 'personality.' But...the essential person in its posthumous becoming and in its immortality perhaps immeasurably transcends the 'personality' of so-and-so son of so-and-so. - Avicenna & the Visionary Recital, 116

It is not in the power of a human being to destroy his celestial Idea; but it is in his power to betray it, to separate himself from it, to have, at the entrance to the Chinvat Bridge, nothing face to face with him but the abominable and demonic caricature of his 'I' delivered over to himself without a heavenly sponsor. - Spiritual Body & Celestial Earth, 42

On the Book

The drama common to all the 'religions of the Book' ... can be designated as the drama of the "Lost Speech." And this because the whole meaning of their life revolves around the phenomenon of the revealed holy Book, around the true meaning of this Book. If the true meaning of the Book is the interior meaning, hidden under the literal appearance, then from the instant that men fail to recognize or refuse this interior meaning, from that instant they mutilate the unity of the Word, of the Logos, and begin the drama of the 'Lost Speech.' - L'Homme et Son Ange, 81

On Dogma & Theophany

Dogma corresponds to dogmatic perception, simple and unidimensional, to a rational evidence, demonstrated, established and stabilized… Theophanic perception remains open to all metamorphoses, and perceives the forms through their very metamorphoses… Theophanic perception presupposes that the soul that perceives the theophany…is entirely a mirror, a speculum… It was necessarily a complete a degradation for the word "speculative" to end by signifying the contrary of what the visionary realism intended to announce in the etymology of the word: speculum, mirror. - Preface to Cirillo & Frémaux, l'Évangile de Barnabé: Recherches sur la composition et l'origine

On the Feast

The Gospel Parable of the Feast (Matt. 22:2-10, Lk. 14:16-24) means precisely what it says... It would be ridiculous to engage in polemics against men or women who refuse to come to the Feast; their refusal inspires only sadness and compassion. - The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism, 145

On the Temple

I would say that the virtue of the Imago Templi lies in making us be within ourselves outside ourselves. For we must not confuse introspection, introversion, with contemplation: there is no contemplation without the Temple. - Temple & Contemplation, 388

On Heaven

Corbin recounts a conversation with D. T. Suzuki in Ascona in 1954: "...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 worlds: 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.'" Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn 'Arabi, 354

Figure 1: Visit to a dervish. Makhzan al-Asrar. Safavid Isfahan, 1610. Hazine 1641, folio 26a. From the Topkapi Palace Museum, Istanbul, Turkey.
Figure 2: Moses and the Burning Bush. Marc Chagall. 1966. From Spaightwood Galleries.
Figure 3: .Gabriel Carries Mohammed over the Mountains.
Mi'raj-nama (Ascension of Muhammad'). From the Sarai Albums. Tabriz, beginning of the 14th century. Hazine 2154, folio 42b. From the Topkapi Palace Museum, Istanbul, Turkey.
Figure 4: Angel of the Annunciation. Simone Martini, c. 1333. National Gallery of Art, Washington.